Some lovely old friends put out lovely records in the not-so-lovely 2020, and flew under the radar. They each warm my heard for very different reasons.
Regina Gently – Don't Wait To Love Me (Cadence). Gentleman Reg is known to Canadian audiences for being the Zelig of the early 2000s indie boom for his role in Three Gut Records, Hidden Cameras, Broken Social Scene and familiar opening act for Sarah Harmer, Stars, and many others. He reinvented himself as drag performer Regina Gently in the 2010s, with a project called Light Fires, which can now be seen as growing pains that led to this fully formed electro-disco tour-de-force. He's always had a way with a great pop hook ("Good people / fucked over / again"), and here he has the production skills of Matt and Mark Thibodeau, whose vintage analog synths give this music a muscle that demands they be heard on big speakers, in DJ sets alongside early '90s house-influenced pop classics. Closing track "Do I Have To Do Everything My Fucking Self?" is a spoken-word piece lifted from Regina's one-woman drag show of the same name. The time for modest moves is over. All hail the new queen.
Minotaurs – Higher Power (Maxilicious). Speaking of early 2000s MVPs, Nathan Lawr spent time in Royal City, King Cobb Steelie, Feist, Fembots, Constantines and more while also putting out a series of solid solo records. His Minotaurs project focuses on his love of Afrobeat filtered through psychedelic modern funk, as filtered through someone schooled in straight-up folk-rock songwriting. Lawr and his guest singers (Jessy Bell Smith, Steph Yates, Misha Bower) are hardly slouches, but it's the band performances and production that are the real wow factors here: this record sparkles with life, with a big, bold brass section, colourful keys, great guitar tones, and of course a killer rhythm section. Recorded live off the floor, with energy that's evident on every listen.
The Ropes – s/t (Wolfe Island Records). Hugh Christopher Brown and bassist Jason Mercer have played together, on and off, since high school when they co-founded the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir. They're now neighbours on Wolfe Island, outside Kingston, and formed a piano-based trio with drummer Pete Bowers, and featuring Brown's consistent primary musical partner through the ages, Kate Fenner, on many tracks. As a huge fan, I've long been waiting for Brown--normally heard on clavinet, organ or guitar--to turn to the piano for more than a song or two per album, and this doesn't disappoint. There's a rich, 70s Van Morrison feel to much of this, which feels a lot better than listening to Mr. Lockdown lately. At least half these songs rank with the best Brown has ever written, particularly "Esselen." This was made by old friends, and it sounds like it. For anyone who's ever been a fan, it feels like a joyous love letter.