Safety dance

Our passel of local music experts weigh on a select group of ECMA categories, and with help from your online votes, toss out some predictions (In-Flight), conspiracy theories (hip-hop) and rants of all kinds (Zellers).

Jon Epworth
photo David Cieplinksi

by Mark Black, Johnston Farrow, Chris McCluskey, Tara Thorne and Shannon Webb-Campbell

ALTERNATIVE RECORDING OF THE YEAR

Jon Epworth and the Improvements, Wet on Wet In-Flight Safety, The Coast is ClearMars Hill, Fate Chance Luck DanceOn Vinyl, Strode DodgerTwo Hours Traffic, Isolator

MB: I’m not really sure how any of these albums can be considered “alternative”—alternative to what? The rock category? With bands like In-Flight Safety and Mars Hill getting regular play on major radio stations in this city, the category seems a little obsolete. My favourite is Jon Epworth and the Improvements, who deserve recognition more than anyone.

JF: Great records all around, but only one of these bands had one of their songs broadcast on North American television. Two Hours Traffic indirectly gets close since their producer Joel Plaskett had that Zellers commercial. In-Flight Safety and their new friendship with Dell computers mean they’re a shoo-in.

CM: With high rotation on Much, several cross-country tours under their belts and an impressive slate of festival appearances, I can’t see anyone but the guys in Safety walking across the stage with this one. I would love to see Epworth’s acceptance speech though…

TT: Because I think In-Flight will score elsewhere (they’re killing the voting at thecoast.ca), I’d happily give it to Epworth and the boys, a frankly surprising inclusion on the nominee list. Dope on every level—especially lyrically—Epworth deserves the nod, and his speech would be awesome. Except they give this out during the pre-show, because, why make the TV part interesting?

SWC: Let’s get this rant out of the way first—I absolutely loathe the lowbrow menial humour of the Trailer Park Boys. I can’t believe they are hosting AGAIN this year. On a more positive note, Halifax’s beloved quartet of cautionary pilots can wipe the sweat from their brows, as they will be sure to take home Alternative Album for their clarifying masterpiece The Coast is Clear.

ROCK RECORDING OF THE YEAR

Chris Colepaugh & the Cosmic Crew, In Your BackyardChucky Danger Band, Colourhey rosetta!, Plan Your EscapeSloan, Never Hear the End of ItSproll, Soft ScienceThe Jimmy Swift Band, Weight of the World

MB: There’s a lot of great rock music being made on the east coast; this list, however, isn’t necessarily indicative of that. Hey rosetta! are the band that least encourages me to rub abrasive cleaner in my eyes, but I get the feeling that Sloan, who once opened for Bootsauce, will take the award.

JF: I’d like to see JSB or hey rosetta! get it, but Sloan continues to milk it at the ECMAs. They’ve lived in Toronto longer than any of the other acts have been bands, yet they continue to steal the ECMA spotlight. Sloan, who taught you to live like that?

CM: Hey rosetta! earned instant credibility with me when I caught them on a whim at the Horseshoe in Toronto. But Sloan, based in Toronto, is beyond any doubt the best rock band of this lot. I wouldn’t classify them as anything else. Well, except awesome.

TT: I don’t understand why there are six bands in this category. It’s like it was a short list and they forgot to knock off Sloan before committing it to print and now they’re stuck. Anyway, JSB is a hard-working band that cranks out shows and records all the time. It should be theirs. And thecoast.ca readers agree.

SWC: It seems we will never hear the end of Sloan. Can these Nova Scotia ex-pats even be considered an east coast entity? They hightailed it Toronto nearly a decade ago and hold permanent Ontario postal codes. Newfoundland’s hey rosetta! gets my vote—not only are da b’ys wonderfully overt with their blatant usage of punctuation, they are from St. John’s. Needs I say more, la?

FOLK RECORDING OF THE YEAR

Jill Barber, For All TimeJP Cormier, Looking Back Volume 2: The SongsAmelia Curran, War BridesCatherine MacLellan, Church Bell BluesOld Man Luedecke, Hinterland

MB: Old Man Luedecke’s Hinterland is an inspired recording that should be recognized for what it is, one of the best records to come out of Nova Scotia in the last decade. It’s a damn crime that it won’t even win best folk record of 2006.

JF: I think all these artists are great, but where the hell is Rose Cousins’s album, If You Were for Me, one of the best folk albums of the year? That said, I’m sure her friend Jill Barber will let her hold the award at the after-party.

CM: If I might play the role of the diplomat for a moment, I would really like to see Old Man Luedecke win best folk record. Not really because I suspect Jill Barber will win most of the other hardware she’s nominated for, but because Hinterland is a record that deserves any attention it can attract.

TT: The hardest category to judge, in theory. My guess is—and it hurts—Cormier will take this. If he weren’t here the category could be anybody’s guess. Alas.

SWC: Not only is the teeter-totter heavier on the female end of selections, but Amelia, Jill and Catherine are three of my favourite songwriters in and outside of Halifax. Church Bell Blues and For All Time tie for second on the list of luminous albums of 2006, but War Brides makes me weep like a baby (and I’ve never been to war and haven’t professed any vows). Amelia, I can’t help but say, until death do us part.

RAP/HIP-HOP SINGLE TRACK RECORDING OF THE YEAR

Classified, “Find Out”Ghettosocks, “Step to a T-Rex”Jay Bizzy, “East Coast Warriors”Jesse Dangerously, “Outfox’d (When Pacifists Attack)”Sko-Shun Tiez, “Ghetto Days”

MB: Jesse Dangerously’s “Outfox’d” is probably one of the more ambitious hip-hop songs to come out of Halifax in the last couple of years. In a better world WordBurglar and JoRun would have been nominated alongside him. The ECMAs aren’t noted for awarding creativity so Dangerously won’t be recognized.

JF: Classified is the only one here up for a Juno, so you can’t deny him the trophy. I think Enfield should follow Mount Uniacke’s lead and give Classified the city keys like Buck 65. I’d like to see a highway billboard right next to the Big Stop: Enfield, Home to Classified. That’d be sweet.

CM: Classified has come a really long way since I first saw him in an MC battle at Park Lane Cinemas five or so years ago—and I think he’ll win. National music industry aside, this is a close category, and I would be just as happy to see Jay Bizzy or Jesse Dangerously win. My heart says a three-way tie, but Classified gets the edge for gaining the most exposure outside Atlantic Canada.

TT: There’s no way Classified’s not going to get this. He should have also been present in any number of other categories, including Male, Entertainer and Recording, but even when he does bust out of his genre box—as he did at Nova Scotia Music Week, leading the nominations—he still only gets the hip-hop award. Never forget the Celtic Mafia.

SWC: Local crew Jesse Dangerously and Classified could battle to death with their singles “Outfox’d (When Pacifists Attack)” and “Find Out,” but the last one standing would be Coast cover boy Classified.

RISING STAR RECORDING OF THE YEAR

Rose CousinsIn-Flight SafetyRuth MinnikinDavid MylesAndrew White

MB: I’m not sure what qualifies you as a rising star, but I get the feeling that if the ECMAs thought they could get away with it, they’d put George Canyon’s name on this list too. I’m going to put even less thought into my selection than the ECMAs did and choose Andrew White because he shares the name of my favourite Mooseheads player.

JF: If David Myles is nominated next year, he’ll win, but others have made bigger waves in 2006. I’m afraid that Rose and Ruth will cancel each other out solely by the fact they look alike in the pictures listed on the ECMA website. Get ready for takeoff, this is the year of In-Flight Safety.

CM: If it’s too belated to salute In-Flight Safety’s growing popularity (they were recognized as North by Northeast’s best unsigned artist four years ago), this one will go to David Myles.

TT: I’m torn between Ruth and Rose. Ruth takes the Danny Michel Juno Award for not really being new—the girl’s on her fourth full-length if you count her Guthries output. It’s a shame she wasn’t all over the ECMAs, like online leaders In-Flight, to start. But Rose’s Studio H-crafted record—made the complete opposite way from Ruth’s live-off-the-floor Folk Art—is a stellar effort, and deserves to be recognized.

SWC: On this cold winter’s day, try to conjure up a memory of a warm summer’s evening. Imagine laying down on your back in the thick grass, as the vast night’s sky opens up like an envelope before your eyes. The soundtrack for such a translucent, unifying moment could only be scored by Fredericton’s own unassuming, multi-instrumental Mr. David Myles. I side with Sarah Slean—thankfully he, unlike his brothers, didn’t go to med school.

RECORDING OF THE YEAR

Charlie A’Court, Bring on the StormJill Barber, For All TimeGeorge Canyon, Somebody Wrote LoveRon Hynes, Ron HynesSloan, Never Hear the End of It

MB: Does it depress anyone else that our biggest music export seems to be George Canyon? What does it say about the east coast music industry that Canyon lives in Alberta and Sloan have played all of two shows in their “hometown” in as many years? What does it say about the ECMAs that they couldn’t think of anything more creative than having the Trailer Park Boys host the event two years in a row?

JF: Sloan, I love ya, but you’re killing me! The ECMAs like to reward the old-timers, which means Ron Hynes is always dangerous. The boys are going to have to take a seat for the lone lady in this category as Jill has made the best record of the bunch.

CM: Their opponents are going to argue they aren’t east coast enough, but Sloan still garnered a nomination and released the best recording of the year. Therefore, they should win. But the cynic in me supposes Ron Hynes and George Canyon will divide the cool hat vote, and Jill Barber will walk away a praiseworthy winner.

TT: I’d love to see my girl Barber scoop this one, but her age is a disadvantage. It’s always the genre-specific award winners that are interesting—the general ones always go to the same-olds. It’ll come down to Hynes and Canyon, and depending which voters have problems with TV karaoke winners (not many, it seems), the former Fred Lays should grab it. Readers at thecoast.ca think so too, barely—Jill and Sloan are mere nths of a percentage point behind.

SWC: Ron Hynes’ self-titled effort certainly has a place in the heart of this displaced pseudo-Newfoundlander; however, the ever-so- charming Jill Barber takes the icing, cake and recipe for this one. Jim Cuddy’s vocal contributions might even convert those country crooners who needlessly bow and kiss the ground at George Canyon’s feet.

FEMALE SOLO RECORDING OF THE YEAR

Jill Barber, For All TimeAmelia Curran, War BridesCatherine MacLellan, Church Bell BluesNatalie MacMaster, Yours TrulyRyLee Madison, Me & Cinderella

MB: Natalie MacMaster must be relieved—finally there’s been someone on TV with a worse Cape Breton accent than hers: Mr. Cornucopia of Awesomeness, Randy Conrad. She will most likely walk away with this award, though Amelia Curran should win for War Brides.

JF: This one will come down to the old guard versus the new generation. Natalie MacMaster might as well change her middle name to ECMA, having won so many of the things. She’ll split the vote with Jill Barber, who is due to take home a couple of her own this year.

CM: The five nominees in this category share a combined 14 ECMA wins, and all of them belong to Natalie MacMaster. Call me foolish, but I am picking Jill Barber as deserving in spite of her competition, who trails only Lennie Gallant and Great Big Sea for most wins since the awards began in 1989.

TT: Online voters have NatMac at a solid lead—why do you hurt me, online voters?—with the relatively unknown, but relatively stupidly good, CMac inching ahead of Madison. Jill would be the winner but for one thing—the ECMAs do love their Macs and Mcs. MacFools. McSigh.

SWC: The genderizing of this category boggles my mind—I wonder how the selection process differs from the respective criteria set for best “female” and best “male” recording. It’s not like determining whether or not you sit or stand when you pee. That said, Catherine MacLellan’s achingly beautiful album Church Bell Blues comforts me like a mug of perfectly steeped tea. I always want a second cup.

MALE SOLO RECORDING OF THE YEAR

Charlie A’Court, Bring on the StormGeorge Canyon, Somebody Wrote LoveJP Cormier, Looking Back Volume 2: The SongsBruce Guthro, Beautiful LifeRon Hynes, Ron Hynes

MB: I don’t even think this is a contest, one listen to JP Cormier’s album is enough to realize that not only does he deserve to win, but he’s in a different class than his fellow nominees. Cormier’s work isn’t derivative, it’s inspired.

JF: “Male Solo” sounds so lonely, doesn’t it? I don’t think we get out of this awards thing without George Canyon winning something. He was on that TV show and voters remember that. And it’s fitting because the only way I’d listen to that record is if I was alone, solo.

CM: Call me resentful, but unless there’s a write-in for David Myles, Old Man Luedecke or Adam Puddington, my vote goes to nobody. Let’s just hand out a pair of Female Solo Recording of the Year awards.

TT: My vote is for Charlie to show the vets how it’s done. Readers pick Guthro—maybe they were all at Grand Parade for New Year’s? I care the least about this category. Classified should be here—his album transcends genre.

SWC: From this selection of the old rock/folk/country bumpkin boys club, I’d have to say Hynes is a personal and traditional possibility, though Charlie A’Court is most likely to get my mom to shake her hips on the dance floor. And yet my official prediction is that the award will go to the strapping, handsome, chiseled mug of cowboy George Canyon.

GROUP RECORDING OF THE YEAR

Chucky Danger Band, ColourThe Divorcees, You Ain’t Gettin’ My CountryIn-Flight Safety, The Coast is ClearMadviolet, Caravan Sloan, Never Hear the End of It

MB: Sloan, Madviolet and the Divorcees have never tried to add me to MySpace, so that goes in their favour. The Divorcees’ You Ain’t Gettin’ My Country teeters on the precipice of novelty, but it’s a damn sight more interesting than this catergory’s other entries.

JF: Enough, Sloan, enough already. Love the Divorcees representing New Brunswick. But the guys from In-Flight Safety are just too damn sexy to lose. Have you seen John Mullane’s cheekbones? I’m convinced that these guys will be a spitting image of Jet this time next year.

CM: I am sure everyone remembers the ECMAs 10 years ago when Sloan evened the score with Rawlins Cross for sweeping them in 1993—crushing them to become Group of the Year. It appears the Newfoundland-based act has backed down since, and Sloan will take on local faves In-Flight Safety. Chucky Danger gets my dark horse pick.

TT: McCluskey must be leading the online charge, because readers think Sloan is tops in this category. I’m with the rest of you—it’s time to stop embarrassing everybody and leave the band off the nominee list altogether. Yeah, I’m gonna say it—the coast is clear for In-Flight.

SWC: Oh. This one is easy. And Group Recording of the Year goes to...In-Flight Safety. These are the most talented collection of musicians east of Montreal, hands down.

SONGWRITER OF THE YEAR

Bruce Guthro for “Holy Road”Jill Barber for “Don’t Go Easy”Joel Plaskett for “Nowhere With You”Ron Hynes for “Dry”Rose Cousins for “Good Enough”

MB: I’m pretty sure the category is best songwriter, not jingle writer, so that eliminates Joel “Zeddy” Plaskett. Who am I kidding? Barber, Guthro, Hynes and Cousins will all fall to the Zellers song and Zellers will eventually fall to Wal-Mart. All hail our new overlords, Plaskett and Wal-Mart. MB

JF: Rose Cousins wins by being nominated with these talented writers. Bruce Guthro could get the ECMA old-timer vote, but could have some of those votes stolen by Ron Hynes. Voters will pass on Jill Barber and award her elsewhere. Plaskett makes you want to sit through Zellers commercials. He’ll take it.

CM: If three songs are all you need to take a category, then Joel Plaskett is this year’s winner. His crossover into the national mainstream, paired with some success internationally, are largely due to his “extra-ordinary” wordsmith-ing. Jill Barber takes the honours for the past year’s best-written full-length.

TT: The readers, if you weren’t sure until this moment, love Joel—nobody’s touching him over at thecoast.ca. The power of advertising, my friends. Can it be a tie? Jill and Rose? Please? Since Gordie’s co-winning Grammys, Guthro is here representing the perennial winners. That trend will likely continue.

SWC: OK, so having your song on a Zellers commercial is bad enough, but it’s even more embarrassing when this cash-grab came from one of the most talented songwriters in Canada. “Nowhere with You” pales in comparison to the collection of songs flowing from the guitar strings of Joel Plaskett. I moved to Nova Scotia to be near the towering talent of the lanky Dartmouth native, but it’s the sweeping, full-bodied, nostalgia-induced sounds of our Nova Scotia adoptee Jill Barber that keep me here.

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