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Jane Siberry: vocals, backing vocals, guitar, piano, synthesizer
Carl Keesee: bass, clarinet
John Switzer: bass
David Bradstreet: electric 12-string guitar and kick drum
David Houghton: drums
Trevor Ferrier: Congas
Bruce Folwer: synthesizer
Shadow vocals: Goldie Sherman, Sarah Farquahar, Jane
Party vocals (The Sky Is So Blue): Brenda Scott, David
Bradstreet, John Switzer, Jane Siberry
Temporally located at the crux between the prolonged twilight of the sixties folk scene and the dawn of the thankfully brief day of disco, the Cafe was a haven for the many still-potent writers and singers who had begun to find themselves considered past their commercial prime. And, in addition to being a welcome new venue for touring famous folkies in the dwindling Ontario folk circuit, the Carden St. Cafe naturally became a home for local singer-songwriters as well. This is where I first saw Jane Siberry perform.
She was an immediately fascinating enigma. She seemed shy and a bit nervous, even on that tiny stage; but at the same time there was a strange confidence and sense of humour that rewarded your attention, that promised a mind and a spirit that you would benefit from knowing. Her voice was sweet and girlish, but also strong and expressive. And her songs confirmed these impressions: melodies that seemed truly inspired by the words they conveyed, and words that seemed like true poetry, in that they made you feel things you had never felt; or had felt but never articulated; or had articulated, but never so exactly, never with that ring of the pure tone of truth. It wasn't, for the most part, writing that was aphoristic or abstract; neither was it overly personal or confessional. Somehow she was able to imbue the specific and descriptive with rich emotion and transcendent concepts. Her songs never seemed to tell you how to feel or think, but you did, richly, each song a delightful epiphany, a lifting of the veil for a brief and clear-eyed glimpse of the world as it really was. I wanted to wait for her after the show, to tell her I saw and felt those things too, at least when she pointed them out to me.
But I didn't. Even though we became acquainted through mutual associations with the cafe , we said little other than hello on whatever occasional meetings there may have been over the next two years. But in the fall of 1979 Jane asked me if I would like to play bass with her. She had formed a duo called Java Jive with a singer named Wendy Davis, and they were ready to become a trio. I said I would like to play bass with her. We spent that winter and the spring and summer of 1980 playing whatever clubs and folk festivals we could. There really weren't that many places to play: many of the folk venues and festivals still in existence had closed ranks to all but the old guard. We didn't really fit into that particular world, yet there didn't seem to be another that was more appropriate. But, nevertheless, Jane's music continued to attract a special breed of fans and allies. A regular fan at our London, Ontario shows was an artist/business student named Bob Blumer, who was later to become Jane's manager. At a little festival in Goderich, Ontario we met David Bradstreet. Bradstreet was one of the many singer-songwriters signed during the folk boom of the early seventies who had felt the pinch of changing times. Undeterred by the loss of his major-label deal, he and partner/bassist Carl Keesee had set up an 8-track recording studio in the basement of David's house in Toronto. Impressed by the sound of Jane's and Wendy's voices together, they asked them to sing on Bradstreet's Black and White album. Bradstreet bartered studio time in return for vocal services, and Jane used the time to record some of her songs. Recorded gradually,in bits and pieces, over 8 months, with additional money raised by waitressing,what began as demos turned into an album.
And the album was a revelation. I knew most of the songs well, and I was aware of Jane's interest in harmony (due in part, she says, to listening to her father's Ink Spots records), because we had experimented with that a little in Java Jive. But the harmonies she created herself through multi-tracking were surprising, radiant and colourful. And not just harmonising the lead vocal: the voice was used as an instrument; multiple spoken voices expressed different thoughts simultaneously... Jane's vision seemed naturally suited to expression through multi-track recording (and as 8 tracks became 24 and then 32 over the next few records, this vision was pursued further).
Anyone familiar with Jane's subsequent work can see its roots in this first album. The use of harmony and simultaneously occurring spoken-voice sections(very accurately mimicking the non-linear and multi-layered function of the mind); the use of monologue, both as part of the song and also to interrupt and comment on the song; the themes of nature and its power of rejuvenation; a mystical connection with animals; the insightful and humourous observation of people and social phenomena; ruminations on love and death and time; and writing about writing, about art, about de-scribing, writing it down,capturing the thing, or the moment, as rich or complex as it may be, before it is lost forever. You can find these concerns explored and expressed in all of Jane's work. I was moved and fascinated by that girl at the Carden St.. Cafe almost 15 years ago. I still am.
looking back on my first album, knowing it was not the beginning of what i was trying to do but only a punch of the clock, i am relieved to see an underlying gravity that has never changed in what i do. and this amidst the uncomfortableness of not knowing who you are, what you mean in the scheme of things, the fey desires of fitting in musically, image-wise, attitude,etc. blowing around on the surface at the whim of the wind but the hum below unchanging. i was glad and a bit surprised to see this.
i don't believe on any other albums have i tried to capture in words the process of capturing. the drive to contain. to anchor. to confirm the existence of...in words, or any other medium. like in 'the strange well',or 'writers'.oh yes, later in 'Vladimir' at the beginning spoken part i say "it's not art it's a power struggle. it captures me, i capture it back".very simple. strike the word art. it's a curious thing, why one does what one does, but not to be belaboured. so, good. only 3 songs about it. no, Switz has just reminded me, also 'the empty city' and 'sevensteps to the wall'. hmmm... whatever.
and at that time, lots of dreams about jesus and in one he was driving an old chevy and was pockmarked and had greasy hair. the people around him acted like they owned him. i sat in the back watching. unsure and wanting.'the magic beads'.
'bessie',never recorded, but the pre-quel to 'ogwen's farm': a girl who patiently teaches a cow (the one that disappeared from ogwen's farm) how to fly, starting with small boulders down by the river. i became fascinated with cows long ago, riveted by their nonchalance. and the way no matter where i stood, all their heads faced me squarely regardless of the direction of their bodies. go stand somewhere else and the same thing would happen.one of us finally losing interest. my reverence for them is an embodiment of my respect for all life. i don't feel anything when i see cow mugs, etc.
this is the original 1st verse of 'writers'. i always liked it but it made the song too long.
one brown sparrow doesn't see me here'marco polo': the exquisite pleasure that can only be derived from material goods. things in life that pull words like "ambrosia", "luxurious","uhh....it's...uhh" unbidden from one's lips.
if he saw me he would flee i fear
hopping on the branch outside
2 stick legs hold him up him high
me, i flap my overcoat
and stamp my boots
it's cold in here
'this girl i know': when she did finally agree to go out with a man she became a bit unstrung and blurted out all kinds of things and burst into tears. from the second date on though, she was fantastic company. sailing across the waters of love like a princess.
'above the treeline': come home from waitressing when i was going to school in guelph, ontario. the skinny kid in the required halter top with the high pony tail. always made good tips but they didn't seem to show up when i cashed out. one of the mysterious things in my life. that and knitting.i tried to be careful. wolf wasn't my dog but lived in my house. true spirit of rock and roll. couldn't tell him what to do. don't even think about it.i named my dog now after him. he's the same way. teaching me how to be a good mother someday. can't tell him what to do so have to trust him. leave it up to his wee wisdom. so, anyways, after i'd come home from waitressing,buzzing from the loud live bands, the smoke, the speeding, wolf would insist on going for a long walk. there seemed to be a lot of full moons that snowy winter. we'd trudge across the backfields, no one around, my face feeling like a dish of milk as i looked up to reflect the reflected light. wolf chasing a jackrabbit along the horizon of the moonlit hill. the snow was deep. they appeared to be in slow motion. neither seemed particularly serious about it. spent a lot of our walk times lying on my back. wolf sitting beside me in his kingly way, listening. walk, lie down and feel it, walk, lie down.giving the walk an overall feeling of a chess game.
studying animals has taught me a lot. their artlessness revealing more about true human nature than humans do. everything, really, revealing things about everything else, now that i think of it. emitting measured packets of beauty to decode somehow. people peering at sunsets with such intensity. as if...if they could only pierce its language everything would be alright.