Arts & Culture

Scene & Heard — Tara Holloway, Lisa Loeb, Souljazz’s side project & more

On Her Own

For the first time in decades, Tara Holloway, the power-house folk-noir and pop songwriter with the raspy voice, has a regular job driving trucks for a catering company. After two decades of cross-country touring, dive motels, and couch surfing, the O-town troubadour goes back to the same place day after day, buys groceries, and cooks at home. This — and the banal working-stiff annoyances of everyday life — are novelties to her. Two years ago, she released the plaintive and pained stunner Little Ghosts on Vancouver’s Light Organ Records, which came with a management deal and a big album budget. She has since parted in favour of going it on her own and not having to record on other people’s timelines. Her plan is to write and play locally through the winter months and tour nationally during the summer, provided that it’s cool with her new bosses. Expect her new EP, out this summer, to explore the push-pull between staying put and an inherent, all-consuming wanderlust. See Holloway with Rebecca Noelle and Sammi Morelli at Live on Elgin, Feb. 18.

Tara Holloway. Photo: Marc Labrecque
Tara Holloway. Photo: Marc Labrecque

(We) Missed You

Lisa Loeb, famous for both her music and her bespectacled presence decades before hipster glasses were de rigueur, has branched out. In addition to continuing to record folk-rock songs in the vein of “Stay (I Missed You)” — her Reality Bites-era hit, now a karaoke staple — Loeb released her fourth kids’ album in 2015. That album will form much of the setlist for the afternoon show at Centrepointe Theatre on Feb. 18, which is billed as a singalong. She plays an evening show at the venue later that day.

Pee Dance

Spend Family Day with Hey Buster. The capital dad band recently branched out into civics with their album I Like My Bike, covering — among other issues — cycling, condo development, and sustainability. Take the kids for the all-ages 6 p.m. show at House of Targ on Feb. 20. Expect singalongs, cardboard cut-out, costumes, and the collective “pee dance.”

Hey Buster
Hey Buster

Souljazz Side Project

“So why are you into this African stuff?” For Philippe Lafrenière of The Souljazz Orchestra, the question comes up occasionally from fans and friends — sometimes it’s delivered dismissively, other times, reverently. The internationally loved six-piece has been amping up its Afro-soul sounds for nearly 20 years.

“It’s funky,” he replies to his own question. “It’s a whole mix of stuff from people from all over.”

We’re in Lafrenière’s basement studio, which is nestled on a commercial strip in Centretown, listening to that hybrid mash of stuff from all over. In the centre of the cozy room, there’s an old console lined with gig posters, vintage bric-a-brac, and a cast-off wet bar.

Lafrenière and his Souljazz bandmates trace the pathways of the former colonies and find the pidgins, pastiches, and new sounds that arise from these post-colonial mash-ups. They pay homage, build upon the originals, or find their own groove. The results have been massive and much loved: The Souljazz Orchestra has toured Europe 14 times.

Philippe Lafrenière of The Souljazz Orchestra
Philippe Lafrenière of The Souljazz Orchestra

Going down the rabbit hole of genres and sub-genres means that between tour stops, the band members spend hours in record stores all over the world. For Lafrenière, the byways are endless. Of late, he’s shifting to South America, discovering 1960s and ’70s music from Colombia, a place he describes as a hot spot for interesting takes on Latin music. He has also been looking at the work of Awesome Tapes from Africa, an online store run by an American ethnomusicologist who went across the continent looking for vintage music on cassette that is of interest to fellow collectors.

Lafrenière is channelling that interest into a new project called Tropikombo, a twangy, brassy analogue-loving Latin quintet that plays big soul-folk tunes that drip with pathos one moment and then jump with call-and-response vocals and snaking horn lines the next. It’s one avenue for Lafrenière, who also plays funk and soul under the moniker Phil Motion, DJs, and records on his Up & Up Music label. (Watch for an album from songwriter Rommel Ribeiro later this year.)

Meanwhile, The Souljazz Orchestra is expanding upon the coupé-décalé-style sounds of the track “Shock & Awe” from their 2015 album, Resistance. Expect more clubby disco sounds from the band for their fall 2017 album. See Lafrenière’s new side project, Tropikombo, Feb. 25 at Le Petit Chicago.

Basia’s Fierce Tenderness

Good Advice, her 2016 Jim James-produced album, is notable in that it maintains Basia Bulat’s husky folkie vocals while indulging full-on in pop-rock trappings. There is heartbreak, group harmonies, oohs and aahs aplenty. This is a marked shift from Bulat’s songwriter origins, but what remains is the trenchant storytelling and smart sequencing that carry listeners through from the early crumblings of a relationship until well after it has all gone to hell. There’s some fierce tenderness happening when Bulat takes the stage. Hear the album in its entirety with a full band on March 10 at the NAC Theatre.

Basia Bulat. Photo: Anthony Seck
Basia Bulat. Photo: Anthony Seck