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Fans of fresh music should head east, far east

By Mark Lepage
  Montréal, QC and Toronto, ON make the all the international rock news, but a musical nor'easter is brewing in Atlantic Canada on Canada's far east coast. A dozen years after being the new Seattle, Halifax (that's Nova Scotia) is the new... Halifax. Or, quoth hip-hop litterateur Buck 65, "Comin' at ya three-dimensional / We don't need to be conventional."
     And they aren't. With a bedrock of song craft as bone deep as any on the continent, the Maritimes can afford to branch out with a mature and diverse scene-from Canada's best MC (that's Buck, y'all) to guitar bands that riff-wrestle with any in the country.
     But first, the angel you know: songwriting is as native to the Maritimes as weather, so expect soothing from Julie Doiron, sophisticated from Jill Barber, randy from Jimmy Rankin and masterful from Joel Plaskett-his "Ashtray Rock" album was shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize. Ruth Minnikin's songs feel as ageless as Robbie Robertson's. Scarifying Newfoundland talent Mark Bragg recalls another irreducible visionary named Tom Waits.
     From there, take a left turn with alt-rockabilly jesters The Grass, electro-pop oddball Windom Earle and '70s stoner pop band The Heavy Blinkers. Then take a mighty right cross to the chin from the six-string electric sluggers.
     Wintersleep has a name-and sound-as elemental as the tsunami it rode in on. The band's mercurial guitars open with a lull, then rip the belly of the sky open, spilling down lightning. One of the country's next heroic bands, yup. The Novaks blew the shmatte off Stevie Van Zandt's head when he featured them on his syndicated radio show, "Little Steven's Underground Garage" (more than 10 times now). Chris Colepaugh and the Cosmic Crew raise a ruckus in the speakeasy with balls-out boogie, and Matt Mays & El Torpedo blow hot out of Cole Harbour.
     Buck 65 appears on that album, illustrating just how 3D this scene truly is. But expect that cross-genre collaboration from folks who know the harsh reality of displacement-generations driven from home by politics or economic hardship, only to be drawn back by blood, family and shared vision. Go east, young fan.

Mark Lepage is a Montréal, QC-born writer whose muse is New York. He has written extensively about rock'n'roll, film and popular culture.

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Mike Keenan

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