Some labours of love take a lifetime of experience to create, and are all the better for it. Bill Lynch, the Nelson-based musician best known for his work with blues band Lazy Poker, has just released his first album, Would You Speak On My Behalf. It features a Who’s Who of Kootenay musicians, drawing from a wide spectrum of genres and instrumentation. Slocan, BC-based guitarist and songwriter Jon Burden is featured prominently on the record, as is Kaslo, BC-based keyboard player Tom Thomson.
Lynch is an Irish immigrant who has lived most of his life in Canada but found his inspiration early in the blues. The Lynch family suffered the premature loss of his father when Bill was only 12 and music became a source of healing. In Ireland music is woven into the fabric of daily life, with many Irish not just passive listeners but performers. The only place with a comparable tradition of grassroots music in Canada would be the Maritimes.
“I remember when the Blues came to Ireland – I was young and it was startling, the notes that bent and twisted the old familiar scales, the lyrics without euphemism or innuendo that spoke of the stuff of real life, love and loss and sex and joy, and all of it performed with an attitude – an attitude stripped of sentimentality.”
But Lynch’s eclectic new record isn’t exactly a blues album. Lynch has travelled widely during his life – the Middle East, Central Asia, India, the Balkans, and Cuba, and these influences subtly creep into the record. Only two numbers on the CD, the traditional song Corinna, Corinna and Please Leave My Kitchen, are blues. Even these are done with an off-kilter 13-bar structure, something blues greats like Charley Patton and Robert Johnson were known for. Please Leave My Kitchen, inspired by post-concert parties in Lynch’s own kitchen, is of course a kind of musical answer to Johnson’s classic Come On In My Kitchen.
“There’s a certain rigidity that comes with putting things in multiples of four that wasn’t there in the early days of blues,” says Lynch. “Charley Patton and Robert Johnson used to sometimes shorten a verse to nine and a half bars. The version of Corinna, Corinna I do is in 13 bars. I went with them because they suited the songs and people don’t notice it because it feels natural.”
Lynch writes all but one of the 12 songs on the album, and displays a deft hand at creating beautiful guitar melodies and arrangements. He credits Jon Burden, whose guitar playing “has the biggest vocabulary I’ve met. Jon’s influence is all over this album.” There are distinct traces of folk music throughout. The title track was inspired by Lynch and Burden figuring out that one of their blues heroes, Albert Collins, used an F minor open tuning. The resulting song has a chiming, almost Indian sound to it. The song Would You Meet Me There has an underlying Cuban element, while You’re Not Ready and Chasing Shadows have R&B style horn sections driving the groove. Song For a Country Girl has a 1930s jazz feel to it. Unsurprisingly then, when I ask him about his musical influences, Lynch is determined not be pigeonholed.
“I think we’ve all been influenced by everything—by world music, folk, blues and everything. When I was asked to classify it for the online music platforms I ended up going with ‘roots folk,’ although I hate to classify music that way.”
According to Burden, the recording started with just himself and Lynch laying down tracks with vocals and guitar, but soon expanded to include a cast of 20 musicians. What changed? “I was sitting listening to it with some friends who have produced a number of albums over the years and there were suggestions flying around the room. And someone said, imagine a cello on that one. And another one said, imagine some soprano voices on that song. And I said, well we have all of these people here.” Lynch started making phone calls and everyone he called said yes. That includes musical luminaries like soprano Noemi Kiss, who performs in opera houses across Europe, yet makes her home in sleepy Argenta, BC. Multi-talented Bessie Wapp adds accordion and vocals with an Eastern European shimmer. Allison Girvan – whose brilliance shines as both singer and conductor of the Corazon Youth Choir – lends her pristine vocal talents. Earthy blues singer Aryn Sherriff – a frequent performer at the annual Silverton Winter Blues Boogie – lends a soulful edge where needed. Ubiquitous hornmeister Clinton Swanson provides a brassy gloss to the songs along with trumpet player Donnie Clark and trombone player Keith Todd. Nelson, BC-based composer Don Macdonald provides a warm, folksy violin. To mention only a few of the worthy musicians on Lynch’s long guest list. “I wonder why other musicians in the Kootenays haven’t done that, because I’ve only scratched the surface, we have so many good people here.”
His lyrics have the same no-nonsense honesty of his blues heroes. Given his Irish roots it’s not surprising that one of his major influences in songwriting is poetry. Lynch says the Irish often claim English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins as their own, “for complicated reasons.” What he draws from Hopkins is his use of sprung rhythms that don’t conform to the standard poetic meters. Over the phone, he reads me Hopkins’ poem Pied Beauty, beautifully illustrating the point. “His very interesting ways of breaking up rhythm were fascinating to me since childhood. I felt like I’d like to play guitar the way Hopkins writes, with those broken rhythms. On Please Leave My Kitchen, I feel like I have that rhythm, like a hobbled horse stumbling along.”
The production values on the album are second to none. Given the challenges faced by Nelson recording engineer Rick Lingard – some songs have up to 10 musicians performing – the mix never degrades into a sonic mush. The clarity and separation of instrumentation are clear yet bring every song into a smooth unity of sound. Mastering was done by Outta Town Sound of Winnipeg.
Would You Speak On My Behalf can be purchased online at iTunes or CD Baby or listened to free at Spotify. For those who still prefer to have an actual CD, these can be purchased locally at Taghum Shell, Packrat Annie’s and Otter Books in Nelson and Figments in Kaslo, with more retail outlets to come. For more information or to order visit http://www.billplynchmusic.com.