Saturday, 16 February 2013

Setting Sail: Rob Lutes Launches "The Bravest Birds" at Sala Rossa

Rob Lutes  |  Sala Rossa

Setting Sail | Jesse Creatchman
Photos | Daniel Adams

When it comes time to release your sixth studio album, you plant thirteen seeds deep into North American soil. The soil is rich with the influence of Blues, Soul, earthy Americana, and Country music. The scenery above the soil is vast and within the 44 minutes it takes you to scan from one end to the other, you’re ears are drawn to the cadence of a literate and musical environment. A culture of rhythm begins to take shape. Digging through your skin, your heart is fed with sweet percussion and female harmony. An acoustic guitar fingerpicks its way up a dirt road... That should get you the attention of Canadian journalists from Montreal Gazette, CBC music, Le Devoir, and online magazines and blogs such as Uncle Ronny’s Montreal Blog, No Depression (The roots music authority!), Me,Myself,Music,and Mysteries, and the list goes on... 

Fortunate was I to attend Rob Lutes’ album launch of 
The Bravest Birds. at La Sala Rossa last Thursday evening. The venue was full of friends and fans of the celebrated vocalist, some of whom have been following Rob for over two decades. The audience scuffled to their seats with a contagion of excitement passing from one body to the next. As the band took the stage, attention was set on the acclaimed, Canadian songwriter and the talented array of musicians he brought to the stage.

Alec McElcheran, a cool and collected Montreal bass-man cared to the rhythm sectioned joined by Mark Nelson, who has recently launched his own jazz quartet “Connect 4” on drums. The two men balanced well between a passive moody flow and active punctuated rhythm. Many of Lutes’ contained compositions opened up to climactic extension in which the rhythm men picked up the pace by double the beat. Heightening the energy, that particularly got the rest of the band and crowd moving, with Alec and Mark laughing along to the syncopation.

Watching Rob Macdonald live for the first time, I am here to state his reputation as one of Montreal most-talented guitarmen is justified. He has been playing with Rob Lutes regularly throughout his career. Wielding a golden beauty Danelectro guitar, Lutes cleverly gave him extensive solos throughout the evening's two sets. Further displaying their trustful partnership, often when the other musicians left the stage, Macdonald accompanied Lutes' intimate selections. 

On fiddle was Joshua Zubot. Preferring to bow the unexpected, his melodies were uneasy as broken glass. During the sixth song of the second set, Floating, Zubot, opted for the stranger side pretty, bowing a cutting high-pitched melody.

Montreal producer Dave Carmichael once said that Rob Lutes has a built in compressor in place of an adam’s apple. Since google has yet to provide an adequate search result evidencing the existence of such an outlandish medical operation, I hesitate to accept such tales as but folklore. One may trace the origins of such Lutes mythos to an evening such as the one I found myself to be a part of last Thursday. As Rob Lutes began to sing, what became immediately apparent was the total  control he held over his voice. Song by song, his vocal dynamics were consistently tasteful. The full power of his voice was often restrained to enhance his low-range raspy delivery. However, there were certain moments  throughout the performance where Lutes (almost) fully let go of the reigns of his alto-tenor voice box, showing off his range.

“Glory”, the sixth track off of The Bravest Birds’ thirteen-track sequence provides a good example of Rob Lute’s vocal chops. The two female vocalist Josephine Von Soukonnov  and Julie Leblanc frequently appeared during both of Rob's two sets. With a short introduction thanking his engineer and bandmates, here is a video of “Glory” by Rob Lutes live at the La Sala Rossa,

Rob Lutes performs "Glory"
Launches The Bravest Birds at La Sala Rossa

Comical, witty, and not afraid to crack a joke at his own expense, there was yet an air of tension about Rob that seemed to present itself in between songs. It seemed that even after five runs at what it takes to market an album, after all the promo and tours, the right notes and the hiccups, an artist can still get skittish as to how new material will be received by a live audience. Experience will teach you how to get over the nerves and to Rob Lutes' credit, they didn't rob the evening of it's flow. The band, performing these songs for the first time, was steady, changing line-ups at ease. 

Above all else, the masterful finger-picking, the top-shelf musicians and the variety arrangements, what has brought the attention to The Bravest Birds and what will carry an ensuing tour are the words of Rob Lutes. The Lutes engine runs on lyrics. The album has the clear vision of a man who has lived long enough to touch the hand of fate, live the loss of love, and verge towards the perspective of acceptance. Experience, however, does, not come without its price-tag. The grave inertia of divorce stands centre stage throughout the album. In "Still Night", a man is awoken by the haunting dream in which he is in tender presence of a past lover. The irony is his use of bright chords that demonstrate the allure of the fantasy amidst the backdrop of the dusty floor of his brain and a cold night. Does he long for the past lover? Perhaps more so to forget, perhaps to accept and move on.

"I'm not sitting waiting for you to arrive 
I’m singing this song just to help me survive
Til tomorrow, where the sun already heals your pain 
Here it's still dark, it's still night I’ll go to bed again"

Head over to RobLutes.com to have a look at a monumental new album and to learn more about Rob and the music he's put out over the years.

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