Canadian 5 piece ensemble Dust Poets were playing after their success at the Shrewsbury Folk Festival. I had not heard a bad word about them so the sparseness of the crowd was something of a shock. Maybe I fall in love too easily; it only took the opening bars of "Walk Away" a song about "the urban sprawl that is happening in Canada" to get me. Murray D Evans' harmonica and acoustic guitar was immediate and forthright; the bass of Gord Mowat and the percussion of Sean McManus were relentless; the accordion of Karla Ferguson and guitar of Corey Ticknor were cutting.
The real beauty of the Dust Poets lays in their ability to change instruments or singers to suit any given song; McManus sang and Ticknor played mandolin on the "Faux Grass" number "Won't Sit Down", on "Change it All" Ferguson sang and McManus played clarinet. If Ticknor was a footballer he would be the ultimate utility player as, as well as guitar and mandolin, he took over percussion when McManus was blowing his clarinet and, on "Hold on For Love" he played pedal steel (although not on stage - there was not enough room). This allowed for a larger, more complex sound to be produced than would seem to be possible with just five band members as their set felt complete rather than just a series of individual tracks.
They finished their set with an Elvis cover; Costello's "Veronica" showing that not only can they write great songs, they can also interpret them. Everything I heard about the Dust Poets at Shrewsbury was right, it's a shame that there were not more people to witness it in the 12 Bar.
World at Large
Whisperin and Hollerin
This writer is continually knocked out by the seemingly bottomless well of talent being divined from the Canadian Alt. Country & Alt. Folk scenes these days. Coast to coast, performers as singular and enticing as Farrell Spence, Kevin House, Blackie & The Rodeo Kings and Share are cropping up and committing memorable debut albums to the annals of Roots-rock history and in DUST POETS we have yet another name to bear in mind for the future.
'World At Large' is the fourth-album from this eclectic 'chamber-folk' quintet who draw upon everything from Bluegrass, gnarly Country-Rock and '60s soul through to gritty, Stones-y rockers as they freewheel down the highway. The LP was recorded in Winnipeg, but the band themselves hail from the enigmatic rural wastes of Manitoba and 'World At Large' presents us with a dozen songs written from a universal, humanitarian point of view that rarely fail to hit their targets.
Opening track 'Big World' immediately gets you onside. It describes a place where "the business men are stepping over him/ he's trying to keep himself warm, he's sleeping in the wind"Â and it outlines the horrors of homelessness with a dignity and accuracy this writer last encountered in Perry Keyes' magnificent low-life vignettes. It's a great start and soon cemented by the tense rootsy rattle'n'roll of 'Border Town' where crime, love on the wring side of the tracks and a Los Lobos-style backdrop get together and apparently hi-jack Eric Clapton for some sultry lead guitar. It's actually Damon Mitchell, but the playing's sure reminiscentof ol' Slow Hand himself.
The rest of the album mixes and matches the best Folk and Alt. Country trappings ('Codeine Dreams' swaggers and jaywalks across to the nearest bar to get royally blasted, 'Way Over Yonder In the Minor Key' is a respectful version of the Woody Guthrie-by-way-of-Billy Bragg classic) with some truly arcane diversions. One of the most unlikely is 'Hotel Paradiso' which apparently describes a sales conference in Spain, only its' randy, Dylan-esque narrative ("they're changing their partners like underwear/ exotic dancers eliciting stares") suggests it's more like a Swingers' Party beneath the surface. If that wasn't curious enough, try 'Opening Day (56 Year-old Wig)' on for size. Built around a musically light and airy set piece and a lovely, sultry Karla Ferguson vocal, it's only when you get to the core of the lyrical slant (a deceased mother's long-saved youthful braids finding their way into the wigs used in a stage production of 'The Sound of Music') that you realise the song actually has a lot more in common with Canadian TV's splendid 'Murdoch Mysteries' series of Victorian crime than any Lucinda Williams album you care to mention.
A good tale of the unexpected's always worth the price of admission, of course, but it's with sublime moments like 'Hold Out For Love' and 'Deceived By Gasoline' that 'World At Large' really scores. Built around stately, Spooner Oldham-style piano, the former is a sweeping ballad which taps into a particularly gorgeous and poised strain of Southern Soul. 'Deceived By Gasoline', meanwhile, is musically sprightly and rocky, but its' anthemic qualities bely its' visceral, post-Iraq state of the North American continent attack ("the union moved in just to pick up the dues/ the crack dealers on the corner now deliver the news") and its' no-punches-pulled fire soon sets it apart.
'World At Large' is a good, sometimes really great album with plenty of weird walks on the wilder side of life to keep it interesting. It tells this writer he has yet another notable back catalogue to check out, not to mention another name to add to his lengthening list of cool Canadians to check out if and when they venture across the Atlantic.
8 out of 10
- Tim Peacock
It’s a big smile from track to track through the Dust Poets latest.
I haven’t heard many bands that can switch between styles so effortlessly but who imbue the music with such heart and relaxed passion.
The use folk, country, bluegrass, Blues and even a touch of Celtic swing to emphasis the songs but the songs are the main event and they really do sound as though they have been written to be listened to and not just 'experienced’ whatever that really means. There is accordion and gently plucked mandolin alongside stunning slide guitar and banjo all combining to create a bucolic warmth that draws you in and keeps you listening , even when there is something else that you really should be doing.
10 of the twelve tracks are written by Murray D. Evans and he creates some great melodies for the band – Karla Ferguson, Sean McManus, Gord Mowat & Corey Ticknor – to play through and the playing is superb; sympathetic and understated but never less than distinctly located in the mix and the sheer musicality is stunning; there really are some fine musicians coming out of Canada these days and the world has finally grown large(?) enough for them to be heard.
The music deals with the real and, occasionally the bizarre, world situation: 'Big World’ talks about the differences between rich and poor nations while 'Deceived By Gasoline’, over an accordion solo, touches on the new world order of the nations that have oil and those who don’t. In the meantime 'Opening Day (56 Year Old Wig)’ relates the tale of a pair of a pair of pigtails from a dead mother being featured in the performance of 'the Sound of Music’ – all with a truly beautiful vocal by Karla Ferguson.
The originality and the quality of playing set this album apart from most of the crap that is released in the summer and with the weather betraying us this is a stunning listen for those days when the rain is falling and there is time to listen and enjoy a collection of real songs.
**** out of *****
- Andy Snipper
“There’s nothing better than seeing a critic who’s choking on a mouthful of his words,” Manitoba’s Dust Poets sing on the song Opening Day. OK, poets, I’m almost gagging, perhaps because there’s too much to say.
I could talk about your ability to slide effortlessly between bluegrass, pop, soul and even mariachi music. Or about your smooth harmonies. Or about your sheer gall of inserting horn lines into acoustic songs.
But it’s enough to talk about the fine songs that anchor this album. Murray D. Evans, the main songwriter, has a fine way with words and telling stories in three or four minutes. The Poets have a reputation for humour, but this effort goes way beyond that, with poignant songs about a ravaged oil boomtown, turning the red braids of a long-departed relative into a wig, and the end of privacy in the digital age—the “skeletons in your inbox.” My favourite is the duet between Evans and keyboard player Karla Ferguson on the whimsical Kiss Away the Afternoon. I think Woody Guthrie would have been pleased to have one of his songs included on this disc.
- Mike Sadava
This is a folk/rock/blues/country album that offers plenty of depth and insight into the world condition, matters of the heart and the notion of being a travelling troubadour. On his eight songs, singer/guitarist Murray D. Evans takes on such topics as homelessness and disparity of wealth (Big World, Hotel Paradiso), rampant oil consumption (Deceived by Gasoline) and the thrill of spending a day in bed with a lover (Kiss Away the Afternoon). But Dust Poets don't start and end with Evans. Sean McManus tackles Billy Bragg's version of Woody Guthrie's Way Over Yonder in a Minor Key and has also penned a rollicking ode to being a rambling man in Won't Set Down.
- John Kendle
World at Large is the fourth release from talented local ensemble Dust Poets. A charming assembly of locally brewed folk tunes composed by front man Murray D. Evans, each song allows the five members to highlight their many vocal and instrumental skills. Along with the core members, there are some very nice contributions by guitarist Damon Mitchell, as well as Rosalyn Dennett and Allison DeGroot, who are one half of local bluegrass sensation Oh My Darling.
Despite the ever-welcoming warmness of Dust Poet’s sound, there is definitely some bite in Mr. Evan’s lyrics. For example, as I write this very sentence I am nervously listening to lead female vocalist Karla Ferguson sing “there’s nothing better than seeing a critic who’s choking on a mouthful of his words” on “Opening Day (56 Year Old Wig).”
The theme of small town origins is found throughout the album in such tracks as “Big World,” “Border Town,” and the Sean McManus-penned “I Won’t Set Down,” often contrasting visions of soulless big cities. It's a sort of one-two combo of wholesome devotion to ones roots and a disdain for the distance a big city can create from where one comes from and/or truly belongs.
**** out of *****
- William O'Donnell
Murray Evans has always lived in his own world. But it has never seemed quite as tastefully decorated as it does on this fourth CD from the Brandon singer-songwriter and his Dust Poets. Reining in his usual eclecticism ever so slightly, Evans succeeds in creating a consistent and cohesive set of rustic pop and alt-country ballads -- all graced with rich chamber-folk textures and thoughtful lyrics.
- Darryl Sterdan
Brandon, Man. folk-rock quintet Dust Poets - for reasons that remain obscure they had to dump their former moniker, Das Macht Show!, on which they had built a substantial reputation as live performers and recording artists - start out anew with a collection of lively, funny, wise and sentimental songs that approach the rambunctious spirit and pop harmony style of such 1960s jug- and blues-based folk acts as New York's The Lovin' Spoonful and Toronto's The Dirty Shames.
Inventive instrumentalists able to effectively combine electric and acoustic instruments, and ingenious songwriters and arrangers, Dust Poets have a little masterpiece on their hands "Dance With Ourselves," "Borrowing Faith," "Hillbilly Love" and the title track provide abundant evidence.
- Greg Quill
"Out on the edge of town - everything's on the edge of town..." So observes Murray D. Evans, the poet laureate of this Brandon group formerly known as Das Macht Show! He's ostensibly talking about the box-store phenomenon, and much of this clever, wonderfully musical album is like its opening couplet - full of wry, pithy and wholly observant comments on modern life.
Evans' talent has long been evident, but Lovesick Town feels like the culmination of all the right elements - impeccable songwriting, tremendous musicianship and a fully realized sound that touches on numerous styles. There's rootsy pop/rock (Good Enough for Me), aching country (Lonesome, a wonderfully stirring ballad from Karla Ferguson that stirs thoughts of Patsy Cline), brassy jazz pop (Dance With Ourselves) and even a take on accordion-fuelled Tex-Mex (the title track).
Though the group members are now spread across the country, it's obvious that all five remember their roots at the 100th meridian and that the heart of the country is far more urbane than many may realize.
- John Kendle
With two previous albums under their collective belts as Das Macht Show, the newly monikered Dust Poets, armed with a strong collection of material by Murray Evans have, in Lovesick Town, delivered an album that traverses a number of styles - country, folk, bluegrass, jazz & even music hall, but with a cohesion and vision that shows they are comfortable in themselves, not struggling to find a 'sound' as albums like this often can.
The twin attack lead vocals of Evans and Karla Ferguson add to the variety and throughout the tight, focused harmony give a pop gloss to the songs. 'I Married a Magician' is an hilarious rag- time that best showcases the strength of the writing on offer here, which is odd given that a number of the tracks ('Music Box', 'Change it All') seem to lament Evans perceived short fallings as a writer.
Dust Poets have, contrary to their name, shown themselves to be fine purveyors of polished country- folk- pop.
- Pete Gow
"I'm so sick of this town / But I really love this town", sings Dust Poets' Murray D. Evans over an irresistibly jaunty shuffle beat on the title track to Lovesick Town. If you can appreciate the simple brilliance of that sentiment, you'll probably enjoy the small-town charms of the album. The smart lyrics are complemented by a warm combination of country, folk, jazz, and circus music: Think a less strange latter-day Tom Waits, or a more strange Fairground Attraction. The combination of craft and palpable honesty makes Lovesick Town one of the year's best surprises.
Oh how Canadian to be folk inspired pop (or pop inspired folk) that happens to be quirky and eclectic much like the "stuff" in your grandmother's attic. Dust poets, formed in 2001 in Brandon, Manitoba, has the quaint charm of the prairies and the presence of dust blowing in the wind ... the strong musicianship and quintessential playful lyrics of Lovesick town make a decisive impact.
The influences are wide ranging from blues, folk, country, and jazzy interludes. Dust Poets rounds out the eclectism with creative interpretations done on mandolin, accordian, clarinet, and horns. Perhaps the mandolin might be reason enough to get the album, I mean, how often are you going to hear a country song with mandolin? Probably not often enough.
The vocals are melodically sound replete with four part harmonies and not a note out of tune. Lovesick town is a throwback to the earnest songwriting of an era when talent meant something. The album is a solid effort by musicians who have sharpened their teeth on experience but lacks the element of spontaneity that pushes music from good to great.
- Frieda Luk
Four Legs Good
Cool yet taut acoustic roots and sardonic urban folk music from a five-piece band of quick-picking, saddle-smooth singing throw-backs from Middle Canada. Headlined by talented songwriter Murray D. Evans and the accordion and vocals of Karla Ferguson, their sound blends twangy country, klezmer, bluegrass and irreverent jazz pop most comfortably. A gem of an album that shouldn't get overlooked.
- Gary von Tersch
What the heck was that? A feisty potpourri of sounds that slams country, swing, klezmer, bluegrass and jazz against a wall to see what sticks results in a uniquely distinctive effort in which everything sticks. Gone Gone Gone suggests a wry Dan Hicks that features the powerful presence of Murray Evans' vocals whereas Mariachi Song visits a smoother, more worldly Joe Ely with a side of Doug Sahm. This is kooky yet professionally produced material that is loaded with heart and personality. Take Four Legs Good with its gypsy groove and Last Train to Clarksville imprint, amidst sheep bleats and hints of Celtic accordion. I want some of whatever these guys are on. Take Karla Ferguson's turn on lead vocals with Don't Be a Man - bent lyrics set against the backdrop of a heartfelt ballad (featuring a quick stab of slashing guitar by guest Murray Pulver). But whatever you do, take heed. This twisted, irreverent quintet's take on originality might intimidate at first but the disc's pure musical approach will quickly hit its mark.
- Eric Thom
"A" “You were never you, you were always someone else in the dark.” Great line from a great writer, found on Someone Else, the last (but for one hidden track) cut on this dozen-tune album. Brandon’s Murray Evans has been enlightening ignorant Winnipeggers on an intermittent basis for well over a decade now and, damn it, it’s about bloody time someone realized that Western Manitoba harbours a guy who is the real deal. das macht Show presents itself visually as a cabaret act but it’s really a vehicle for all the styles its members can play. From country to bluegrass to folk to straight ahead acoustic pop, it’s all showcased here. Best cuts are a loping take on Elvis Costello’s Veronica, a surprisingly disarming children-of-the-Vietnam-era tale of Charlie Territory and the wonderful, aforementioned Someone Else.
- John Kendle