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 "So many invisible angels work 
to keep
Us from drowning; 
so many hands reach
Down to pull the 
swimmer from the water
-Robert Bly.

 douglas mclean music 

"Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?"
? Mary Oliver 

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Various writing for print media and myself.

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Matt Allen

Posted on May 9, 2019 at 3:50 PM Comments comments (0)

Jump Jive and Swing - for the love of Classic Rock & Roll

“There’s so little sweetness in the music I hear now, no croons, no doo-wop or slow ones where you could hug up with someone and hold them against your body, feel their heart against yours, touch their cheek with your cheek” HOMAGE: DOO-WOP By Joseph Stroud

“Do you believe in rock and roll? Can music save your mortal soul? and can you teach me how to dance real slow?” AMERICAN PIE Don McLean

Matt Allen has sustained a music career for 40 plus years. This comes as no surprise to those who recognize and treasure the source of his lasting inspiration: Blues – Rockabilly – Honky Tonk. Allen moved to Huntsville in 2006 and has been playing local solo gigs and shows around Muskoka since 2016. He continues to play with his beloved bands- The Tex- Styles and the Swingin’ Blackjacks, in Toronto (and area) on a regular basis. Matt is an extraordinary guitarist and singer. His solo show is a delightful mix of well-worn classics and standards along with his own compositions such as “Misery Train”, “Little Red Head”,” Little Easter”. Mr Allen has released only one EP of his sound; so far, “Hi-Fi Sound” which I believe was released somewhere in early 2000. With only 4 songs, this collection is rocking and a full on dancing set of tunes. Mr. Allen started his musical journey very early in life. His family moved around as his parent’s career opportunities presented themselves. Matt recalls that one of his first influences were a band he encountered in the Barbados, where his parents were teaching – “The MerryMen” – a band which acquired world wide fame and continues to tour. While this band took its name from Robin Hood and his – you know the rest; suggesting that they were slightly non-conformist, their sound is infectious, joyful and makes you want to move. This seems to have stayed with Matt throughout his career. In his teens, Matt was influenced, like so many of us, by the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Kinks; bands who were largely formed and aspired to be like their idols – Buddy Holly, Elvis and the Everly Brothers and the Chicago bluesmen. During these formative years, although he originally hoped to be a drummer, Matt began to play guitar and it was the eclectic guitar that was calling out to him. As Matt grew older, he was more directly influenced by the early ‘80’s music particularly The Clash. Blondie and Elvis Costello. Matt’s fascination with these new sounds led him to an interest in the sound from which these newer bands drew their perspective. Of course, Rockabilly was still very vital in mainstream culture – the movie Grease, the 1978 American musical romantic comedy was a massive hit worldwide- celebrating the music, culture and look of the early days of rock and roll. “Rockabilly is one of the earliest styles of rock and roll music, dating back to the early 1950s in the United States, especially the South. As a genre it blends the sound of Western musical styles such as country with that of rhythm and blues, leading to what is considered "classic" rock and roll.” Not only was Rockabilly a style and sound in music, it was a very distinctive style of hair and clothing. In many regards it is living legacy of a pioneering spirit that emerged after the Second World War. A war, which intermingled the music and cultures of the enlisted men who served. One of the predominate sounds that had been emerging as the Americans entered the war, was “Jump Blues” which mixed 12 bar blues patterns, drum “backbeats” with the big band Swing music, which itself had emerged from New Orleans jazz and onward to rhythm and blues and into a stripped down music for people to dance to. These forms of music are highly innovative for musical expression and freedom but they are vastly enjoyable fun for the audience. The big drive of the bass and drums make you want to dance!! This was the sound that by 1985 had really caught Matt Allen’s artistic soul and has driven his sound ever since. It not only a sound but also a style that you get when you attend one of his concerts. Matt’s guitar styling is very distinctive – full of energy, muscular and exciting – as he overdrives his solos or fills the room with vibrato and reverb. I have to admit that one time I tried to see what his settings were on his amp and it seems that is a highly guarded secret. Another constant in Matt’s sound is his singing, which is rich and melodic with a touch of twang, salted with falsetto accents. He has a beautiful singing voice and personal touch. It is a joy to listen to as he takes you inside the simple stories and characters that fill his songs. Matt completes his style and sound with carefully shaped hair, vintage shirts and the ever present sneakers which I suspect are Converse but you can ask him yourself since I forgot to. One aspect of Matt Allen’s sound that I had not fully recognized in concert was that a lot of this music was intended for the young to dance real slow and close. This triggered a deep memory for me at how important and real it is to hold close a loved one and sway to the music, or as Joseph Stroud, the San Francisco poet, so eloquently states – “hug up with someone and hold them against your body, feel their heart against yours, touch their cheek with your cheek” Matt Allen is one of the busiest local musical performers working in the Muskoka. Above he is a sincere and gracious artist who believes that his work “must bring good value to the client”. You can see him at the following local venues throughout March. The Griffin- Bracebridge - Mar 2&30, The Oar& Paddle – Gravenhurst- Mar 5, Huntsville Brewhouse – Huntsville - Mar 16 Also Check out Matt on Hunters Bay Radio – The Bay 88.7fm; every Wednesday at 6pm for Talent on the Bay. Contact Matt Allen - https://www.facebook.com/matt.allen.3139

Noah Zacharin - " A Startle of Wings"

Posted on April 7, 2019 at 12:30 AM Comments comments (0)

“A STARTLE OF WINGS”, NOAH ZACHARIN’S 2018 album release is a song cycle of rare beauty and craft. Each song is presented either in solo performance or with sparse accompaniment, to set a lingering intimacy between guitarist and song; as if the wee small hours of morning found him out and these fourteen, the truth he stole away with. While it’s title, “A Startle of Wings”, may conjure images of endothermic vertebrates- a grouse bursting suddenly from the undergrowth; or reflected sunlight on eagle feathers in far flight; or a nut hatch peaking into your hand for the sweet you tucked earlier into your coat pocket; these songs do not give easy sway to such metaphor. Instead like the song “small town novel”, each has it’s own theme and unique perspective hinting at a larger narrative. From the intricate opening guitar phrases of “ morning comes on” through the virtuosic power of “ declare your love” to the simple closing waltz of “woke like a lark”, you are drawn as water through a misted mountain stream - your soul touched and dazzled; your mind aching to hold both song and lyric in one last embrace. I have had the privilege to spend many hours with these songs and yet i marvel at each listening – so rare that each and all would remain so compelling. Whatever circumstances inspired these compositions, we must rejoice that a master of song was able to hear the glancing light shimmered off wings that pull toward unseen destinations and that Mr. Zacharin then blessed us with their subtle magic Read more about Noah Zacharin at: https://www.noahsong.com

Jon Brooks

Posted on March 21, 2019 at 4:00 PM Comments comments (0)

January 08,2019      Great North Arrow

wavelength -

“Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river You can hear the boats go by, you can spend the night forever And you know that she's half-crazy but that's why you want to be there And she feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China And just when you mean to tell her that you have no love to give her Then she gets you on her wavelength And she lets the river answer that you've always been her lover And you want to travel with her, and you want to travel blind And you know that she will trust you For you've touched her perfect body with your mind” Suzanne Leonard Cohen 1966 This column is an exploration of the art of song writing and live song performances in the Muskoka area along with a discussion on the recorded works of local and visiting artists as well as reviews of past and up coming shows that I have the privilege of attending. wavelength - Great North Arrow – February 2019 This week Jon Brooks (jonbrooks.ca) live in concert and Noah Zacharin’s (www.noahsong) remarkable 2018 album – A Startle of Wings. Most of us find ourselves surrounded by song and music of some form throughout our day. Whether we have chosen a playlist for our drive to work or catch a tune on our favourite radio show or simply recognized a tune in the background of a movie or television program we are watching, songs fill our waking hours. For some, those songs reflect the world we see, the loves we have or the hopes we aspire to. Frequently a song holds us as if in a momentary magical trance and nothing we do will free us from the spell that song weaves around our thoughts and dreams. Often we are caught by song in a moment of our life passage and are reminded vividly each time we hear it. Leonard Cohen spoke directly to the inner magic of song – the marriage of lyric to melody, in his masterpiece “Suzanne” from 1966, when he invites us to partake in the “tea and oranges that come all the way from China” until “she gets you on her wavelength” and we are forever drawn into events beyond our perception that linger in awareness long into the days and nights that follow. Such is the power of song, that it might change the way you see things and inform the steps you take from the moment you come into contact. Behind the nature of song are the practitioners of the art – often-humble humans who toil to bring unseen forces into focus that we might be so influenced. Not all songs are equal of course and some are written for our pleasure, diversion and enjoyment. All are valid and the songwriters of all song deserve our closer attention. The Muskoka area is blessed with many songwriters (of whom I am one) and it is my hope that in this column I will introduce you to some. Muskoka also is a favoured place for concerts and live music and I will share the news that I have and the shows that I get to attend.


This past November, Jon Brooks played three concerts in Muskoka and Parry Sound venues. The shows were very well attended and Mr. Brooks was greeted with tremendous enthusiasm. I first heard Jon Brooks at a concert in 2014 in Huntsville at a concert that featured Rob Lutes, and many local songwriters. That night Jon played a song with the longest title but the most powerful message that I have ever heard. That song “If We Keep What's Within Us, What's Within Us Will Kill Us, But If We Give What's Within Us, What's Within Us Will Save Us” was to be on my playlist, on repeat, for weeks. I was hooked, awed and inspired. At that time, Jon Brooks was touring in support of his award winning album for Borealis Records, The Smiling And Beautiful Countryside 2014 – a dark set of songs of rural Canadian murder ballads and was recorded in Toronto by acclaimed producer/engineer, David Travers-Smith. In those songs he found a way to touch a nerve in our complacency and shake us free of our slumber or as he often says: “I write songs to calm those who’ve looked into, and seen, what is in their hearts. I also write songs to terrify those who have not.” – Jon Brooks In 2018, Jon Brooks released his long awaited album “No One Travels Alone”; eleven songs connected by the corona (circular) form, in which the last line of each song is the first line of the following song. His concerts in Muskoka were a continuation of a long worldwide tour in support of this work. The songs on “No One Travels Alone” are filled with poetic meditations on the human beast’s aspirations - trapped and aching by both good and evil. Allow me to recommend that you seek this work for yourselves. Jon Brooks in concert performance is a whirl of craft and invocations that call upon each in attendance to open, to listen and to pay attention. He stamps his foot as if to waken earth forces and slaps the back and a front of his guitar as if some magical drum. He calls out as if in benediction to unseen sacred powers for us to reach within and understand. These acts are not meant for mere theatrics but call upon an ancient craft and time when audiences gathered for higher purpose. All of this is done in service of the songs. Now some 15 years or more in pursuit of his artistry, Jon Brooks has a deep catalogue to draw upon. Each concert is prepared with the place and time in mind in honour of each show’s specific qualities. For the concert held at the NAISA North Media Centre & Cafe in South River, Brooks drew up some of his better known tunes as well as several from “No One Travels Alone” most notably - Proxima B, Standing At the Gates and All Life’s Meaning. He also chose songs from his earlier albums, punctuating his own songs with song quotes from other songwriters and poets. Brooks is a careful practitioner of language and the references he alludes to in his songs is broad – sweeping. This is the aspect of his writing that I am most attracted to: attention to detail and the depth of research that prefaces his writing. As an artist Brooks pursues topics with diligence, curiosity and compassion in his effort to discover the deep truths of our life on planet earth. You can read more about Jon Brooks at https://borealisrecords.com/artists/jon-brooks" target="_blank">https://borealisrecords.com/artists/jon-brooks and his website https://www.jonbrooks.ca" target="_blank">https://www.jonbrooks.ca


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