Solstice Spirit – The Musical Visions of Sister Gildaherd the Benign
Kirk Elliott
Pipistrelle Music KESS2016 (

Kirk Elliott.jpgMulti-instrumentalist and merry prankster Kirk Elliott has been very busy preparing for the onset of winter, it seems. Following up on his 2015 release Widdershins – the Legend of Tristan Shoute, the master of parody and deceit has outdone himself on this latest offering, just in time for Solstice celebrations. As is his wont, Elliott plays no end – literally – of plucked, bowed, blown, squeezed and banged instruments spanning centuries and cultures (i.e. from Renaissance lute and psaltery, to balalaika, sitar and guzeng, Celtic harp to harmonica and accordion to electric guitar, to name just a few). He gets a little help from friends Rebecca Campbell (sultry voice), Don Rooke (honey-dripping Hawaiian slide guitar), Alison Melville (tuneful tenor recorders) and Ben Grossman (hardy hurdy-gurdy) on a few tracks, but this is mostly a solo project.

​Whereas in Widdershins Elliott created a heroic character who appeared in various guises and historical time periods, in this instance the conceit is the story of a young woman who rises through the ranks of a nunnery to eventually be elected Mother Superior. This is a title and position she rejects however as she abolishes the hierarchy in favour of an equitable sisterhood. So, who was Sister Gildaherd the Benign? We are told that “The youngest of twelve children, Gildaherd lost her entire family within months, due to primitive medical conditions, jousting, and head cheese. Relocated to an obsolete convent, she was tormented by insomnia – until she found a mysterious herbal cure, which somehow rendered her susceptible to auditory hallucinations.” Elliott has created an imaginative, festive collection of Gildaherd’s musical visions, from reworkings of The Huron Carol and Edi beo thu to She’s Like the Swallow and Polorum Saskatoona. The last mentioned is Elliott’s take on the medieval Marian hymn Polorum Regina, “Queen of Heaven,” in a Canadian variant substituting his hometown of Saskatoon for the namesake capital city of Saskatchewan.

​Elliott’s original alias Tristan Shoute himself also makes an appearance, at least off-stage, in the album, with a visit to the convent where he briefly tutors the sisters in the musical arts, and leaves in his wake a string of “virgin” births. The musical styles included in this Solstice offering are as eclectic as Elliott himself and I thank him for sharing his wit, wisdom and wonderful musicality with us again.

David Olds is reviews editor at The WholeNote. He can be reached at

01 Anne Sofie von OtterSo Many Things
Anne Sofie von Otter
Naïve V5436

The eloquent and versatile Anne Sofie von Otter is much admired for her ability to cross over genres effortlessly in a manner far more hip than many of the classical persuasion. Teaming up with the equally fluid string quartet Brooklyn Rider, well-known for collaborations with artists in genres from jazz to world music, they explore on this recording an eclectic collection of repertoire from John Adams to Björk to Elvis Costello with great affinity and intelligent interpretation. As well as the performers’ favourite selections, there are pieces included that were created specifically for them: Nico Muhly’s So Many Things and For Sixty Cents, an amusing New York vignette by the quartet’s violinist Colin Jacobsen. Pulitzer Prize-winner Caroline Shaw offered her Cant voi l’aube, a modern reworking of a 12th-century trouvère song.

Songs of unconventional love affairs such as Kate Bush’s Pi and Sting’s Practical Arrangement are remedies to the common love song, providing the listener with another insightful glimpse into urban life. Ending with a nod to the fusion of opera and popular music, they perform Les feux d’artifice t’appellent, the closing aria from Rufus Wainwright’s debut opera, Prima Donna.

02 Angele DubeauSilence On Joue Take 2
Angèle Dubeau & La Pietà
Analekta AN 2 8743-4


Quebec violin star Angèle Dubeau has chosen diverse movie music to perform with her ensemble La Pietà in this double-CD release which marks a number  of personal milestones and is dedicated to her audience. CD 1, named Sweet, features 15 tracks of a laid-back variety, while CD 2 named Salty, has 12 more toe-tapping tracks. The clever arrangements are true to their soundtrack roots and highlight the strengths of Dubeau and the strings, harp and piano performers.

Initially I questioned the separation of Sweet and Salty styles but then I was never bored listening. Highlights from Sweet include Unchained Melody – Orchestral from Ghost with a soaring opening violin line leading to a colourful instrumental trading off of the famous earworm melody. And what is movie music without the familiar, strings -friendly music like Suite Harry Potter and John Williams’ Across the Stars from Star Wars – Episode II: Attack of the Clones. The minimalistic harmonic and broken chord changes driving Einaudi’s Sotto falso nome succeed independently even without its closely linked visuals. From Salty, Tubular Bells from The Exorcist actually works without the original percussion, while If I Were a Rich Man from Fiddler on the Roof is a natural choice with Dubeau’s great violin playing of the famous melody against an upbeat backdrop.

The diverse, easy listening music never feels lost without the visuals, which is a great reminder of the talents of film composers, performers, arrangers and producers. Listen and celebrate Angèle Dubeau’s exceptional musicality, phrasing and technique across the styles!

03 BombadilsNew Shoes
The Bombadils
Borealis Records BCD243 (

While the roots music duo The Bombadils live in Montreal they do get around, recording this, their third album, New Shoes, in a Bowen Island, BC, studio. Canadian Maritimer Luke Fraser and self-described “prairie girl” Sarah Frank share an abiding affection for North American and Celtic folk songs, fiddle tunes as well as European classical music. The resonance of those traditions permeates the album.

Frank’s supple soft voice is featured on most tracks accompanied by her idiomatically expressive fiddle and claw-hammer banjo. Fraser sings and plays incisive guitar and mandolin. Not that long ago both studied classical music at Montreal’s McGill University, their various affiliations coming through clearly in the clever La fille aux cheveux de lin. It borrows its melody from Claude Debussy’s piano piece of the same title, neatly adapted by Frank and set to a French poem by Parnassian poet Charles Marie René Leconte de Lisle.

They also pay respects to the late American singer-guitarist Doc Watson and Rosa Lee Watson’s classic Bluegrass song Lone [Long] Journey in a classically tinged arrangement enriched with cello, their two voices neatly paired.

Fraser and Frank’s own songs are marked by originality. Even their arrangements are not allowed to fall into banality, but are rather infused with an old-timey feel while given the tang of the new. It’s a winning combination that’s quite satisfying musically. Twelve guest musicians – including Canadian banjoist extraordinaire Jayme Stone, cellist Kaitlyn Raitz and the expressive jazzy flute of Anh Phung – lend the album additional texture and musical polish.

I find New Shoes a wistful, charming and musically sure-handed outing, and look to the further evolution of this abundantly talented duo.

04 Vandana VishwasParallels…to South Asian music from around the world
Vandana Vishwas
Independent VV003


While the Indo-Canadian singer and songwriter Vandana Vishwas was trained in the rigours of North Indian classical vocal music, her own songs and singing style inhabit the lighter world of contemporary sugam sangeet. Vishwas’ website translates the term as “Easy Listening Music,” though more generally sugam sangeet refers to songs which employ readily understood lyrics and straightforward melodies.

Hindustani music practitioners distinguish their “classical music” practice from sugam sangeet partly in that the former is firmly based on a large repertoire of ragas (complex melodic modal-tonal frameworks for composition and improvisation) and talas (cyclical rhythmic-metric phrases). Sugam sangeet, on the other hand, is an approach to music performance where adherence to raga-bound rules is loosened or dispensed with entirely, and experimentation with various genre combinations is expected.

The discussion brings us neatly to Vishwas’ intriguing new album. Its full title is Parallels…to South Asian music from around the world, and that is what she sets out to explore. It helps to understand that “South Asian” in this context invokes a narrow range of Hindustani music genres from an entire subcontinent’s worth of possibilities.

Vishwas and her crack team of studio musicians deliver on the title’s promise in quite surprising ways. For example the opening track Mai Bequid is first rendered in a flamenco setting. Later it reappears in an unexpected country arrangement embellished with dobro, banjo and drum set. Fiqr E Manzil, on the other hand, sets out to map parallels between Vishwas’ ghazal singing and the rock trinity of distorted electric guitar, bass and metal-worthy drum set authoritatively played by Mark Kelso. It’s one of my favourites on the album.

If you keep a genre-open mind, you too may find your own favourite Parallels.

05 Lori CullenSexsmith Swinghammer Songs
Lori Cullen
True North Records TRD618

Contemporary jazz/pop vocalist Lori Cullen’s latest release is an appealing and innovative project that is the result of an inspired collaboration between Cullen herself and two noted musicians – composer/guitarist Kurt Swinghammer and composer/lyricist Ron Sexsmith. It was Sexsmith who first suggested to Swinghammer that they write an album together specifically tailored for Cullen. The 12 tracks on the CD all feature lyrics by Sexsmith and are rife with Swinghammer’s carefully placed stylistic elements of the artists who defined the fertile pop eras of the 1960s and 1970s, including tips of the hat to Burt Bacharach, Jimmy Webb and Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Produced by bassist Maury Lafoy (who appears on the project), the musicians also include drummer Mark Mariash, keyboardist Robbie Grunwald and Swinghammer on guitar. Although Fender Rhodes and guitar are central to the instrumentation, the compelling, acoustic arrangements by Swinghammer also involve an array of diverse instrumental contributions, including finely crafted enhancements on trumpet, trombone, oboe, clarinet, vibraphone, marimba, English horn, recorder and more.

Cullen’s angelic voice wraps itself around each sumptuous melodic line and every composition has been constructed to highlight her superb, crystalline vocal instrument and intuitive knack for delivering frank emotional content and a quirky lyric. Memorable tracks include the gently swinging and faintly ironic The Face of Emily, which features a lush vocal arrangement, and the groovy, lighter-than-air bossa nova, New Love. A true gem is the heartrending duet between Cullen and Sexsmith, Off Somewhere.

This thoroughly pleasing and unabashedly romantic recording is a triumph for all three of these gifted artists and a stunning example of creative, musical symbiosis.

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