Presented by JazzEast: The New Standard: The Heavy Blinkers + The New Bridge at The Company House - Wed Nov 20 2013 at 8:30 pm
Show on Wed Nov 20, 2013 at 8:30 pm
This month's New Standard showcases The Heavy Blinkers and The New Bridge. The Heavy Blinkers, five albums strong and hailed by Rolling Stone as a "tour-de-force of unequalled pop excellence " with "pure genius arrangements", are back with numbers from their latest album Health. This five piece band, includes Halifamous musicians along with founding member Jason Michael MacIsaac. Opening the night is The New Bridge, a lively new string-band jazz trio featuring Halifax musicians Ross Burns, Adam Fine and Nick Wilkinson of Gypsophilia. Known to explore music with equal measures of adventure and swing this is an act not to be missed!
The band had been playing less and less over the previous months. In addition to that, some of the founding members had begun putting their focus on other projects. Their magnificent last offering The Night and I Are Still So Young earned them international acclaim and a devoted fanbase. Still, basing a touring orchestral pop act out of an isolated Canadian coastal city wasn’t without its challenges.
As the choir assembled, they were given the lyrics to an upbeat and ambiguously themed track called “As Long As You Have Your Health.” With crisp voices riding atop a giddy piano line, they delivered a song that evoked the classic pop sound that The Heavy Blinkers had mastered with favorites such as “Try Telling That To My Baby” and “You Can Heal.” It was with the track’s cautiously optimistic lyrics and beaming delivery that the current chapter of The Heavy Blinkers drew to a close.
Seven years later, the band’s last remaining founding member, Jason Michael MacIsaac received a wood carved image of a sailor standing alone on the edge of a turbulent sea. The naval officer calmly salutes a ship in the distance as it sinks into the waves. The night glows around him. The image acts as the completed album’s cover. While it’s a tribute to MacIsaac’s father, who served in the military, there is also something else at play. The sailor salutes with his wrong hand. The snow that falls in the evening sky is alive with a surreal light.
It is the final piece in a project that has been one constant in almost a decade of change. Following endless sessions, long hours of meticulously arranging instrumental passages, and reworking lyrics,Health was finally done.
All of The Heavy Blinkers splintered in various directions following their various exits from the band. Looking for new motivation before he carried on, MacIsaac put new focus on his work with renowned Theatre troupe, Zuppa Theatre. He also began composing music for television and film, including scoring the Thom Fitzgerald film Cloudburst (which features Oscar Award winners Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker). This new format directly informed the way he approached the subsequent Heavy Blinkers material.
With that in mind, Health begins with an ending of sorts. The choir that was assembled so many years prior sings a passage that slowly submerges into a mysterious new world. The second half of the track acts as musical gateway into this dimension. Unfamiliar voices guide the way. The once glowing sunshine has dimmed into twilight.
Filled with songs of the war, death, and unrequited love, Health is a haunted epic. Written as a musical, the character’s stories are told by vocalists Stewart Legere, Melanie Stone, and Jenn Grant with help from guest contributors Sondre Lerche and The High Llamas’ Sean O’Hagan. It uses works such as Frank Sinatra’s Watertown and Van Dyke Park’s (who once called the band “the real deal”) Song Cycle as touchstones, but still remains wholly unique.
Rolling Stone once claimed, “The Heavy Blinkers go beyond simple accomplishment, and into the realm of masterwork thanks to the production and pure genius arrangements.” Health holds true to these words. Each song delivers lush new arrangements that revel in all the benefits of studio indulgence. Culled from 30 completed songs, the depth of the project is massive, but the focus is unparalleled.
“Anna Karina, I Was Wrong” is a wartime tale that shimmers with harps and foreboding strings. Centred around the somewhat baleful refrain, “This is what you deserve, and I won’t stand in your way,” the song is an apology and a goodbye. It’s a towering work and stands as the thematic core of the record.
The song ends with an echo of “My Darling Clementine.” It is the first of many ghosts that haunt the album. These specters eventually take over in the closing, “Everything is Magic.” With echoing laughter and a woozy arrangement, the voices of 40 Heavy Blinkers fans (recorded all over the world) recite a passage that MacIsaac wrote seven years ago which would serve to inspire the project:
“In an attempt to spell her name, the illiterate moon gathered up all the stars into her arms, and laid them out over the night sky, forming letters as she went along. Unwittingly, she spelled the word noon instead of moon. The sun instantly filled the sky, and the moon disappeared.”
Through the voices and sway of the music, the choir once again resurfaces. This time its voices are distant, submerged. A memory of the beginning now ominously opens the door for a new chapter.