Notes On Montreal (Independent)
“In the middle of guitarist/songwriter Mike Rud’s new disc Notes On Montreal, there’s an absolute gem.
Rud on guitar and vocalist Sienna Dahlen combine on Parc La Fontaine to create an intimate little masterpiece. Thanks to Rud’s playing and lyrics, and Dahlen’s beautiful timbre and delivery, what we have here is a gem-like marvel that conveys sadness, hope and sympathy with heart-touching clarity.
“It’s the track I keep coming back to as the touchstone of Rud’s beautiful disc. In its entirety, Notes On Montreal is an ode to worthy several subjects — the city that the Alberta-raised Rud calls home, to a collection of great literary works that are situated in Montreal, and ultimately to the hardscrabble montrealais of imagination and reality. The dozen other pieces on Notes On Montreal are only slightly less captivating than Parc La Fontaine. In all, the disc is like a lustrous collection of linked short stories — an artistic effort, years in the making, that’s breathtaking in its diversity and soulfulness.
“The album consists of 13 pieces with words and music by Rud. Almost all were inspired by Rud’s readings of works by writers such as Leonard Cohen, Mordecai Richler (Barney’s Version), Michel Tremblay (The Fat Woman Next Door Is Pregnant), Gabrielle Roy (The Tin Flute) and Dany Laferriere (How To Make Love To A Negro Without Getting Tired). These giants of writing have practically immortalized Montreal with their art. For his part, Rud, with his evocative and emotional lyrics, proves their worthy successor, especially with the portraits he economically but vividly draws of the poor and struggling, bravely seeking redemption and wholeness.
“Of course, vital to the power of Notes On Montreal is Dahlen. If she were an actor rather than a singer, I might say that Notes On Montreal is the role she was born to play. Her pure, ravishing voice really inhabits Rud’s lyrics, delivering his words with nuance and spot-on emotion.
“While Parc La Fontaine is a stripped-down, tightly focused performance by the disc’s two essential players, the other tracks are colourful and eclectic outings for a larger group, frequently augmented by a string quartet playing Rud’s arrangements. While Notes On Montreal is the work of top-notch Canadian jazz talents, it’s considerably more than a jazz album, with catchy pop (As The Cross Looks On, Baby), country (Streetcar 55), Latin grooves (the tango Florentine, the disc’s cool opener Smoke Meat And The Main, Rud’s riff on Barney’s Version) and more animating Rud’s music. Instrumentally, Dahlen’s impeccably accompanied and Rud, pianist Chad Linsley pick their spots for fine solos in the service of the songs. The crisp, focused production by Paul Johnston ensures that the music is always shining.
“Other highlights on this very consistent disc are the lyrical, waltzing narratives of To Carmen, To Breavman and Bags Clothes, Bottles. Ode To Dusty’s is a crowdpleasing tribute to Montreal’s many breakfast joints.
“Caveat lector: I’m predisposed to respond very favourably to Notes On Montreal. I read some of the texts that inspired Rud during my English studies — who says arts educations aren’t good for anything? I went to McGill University for several years, was one of students that Rud gently mocks in As The Cross Looks On. I met Rud back then, in Montreal, more than two decades ago, and we only became better friends after Rud lived in Ottawa in the middle of the last decade. I’m lucky that get to make music with Rud a couple of times a year, and I value his guitar-playing and expansive spirit enough that I’ll feature it on my next CD. So factor all of these points into my praise for Notes On Montreal, if you will.
“That said, I’d challenge anyone to give Notes On Montreal a thorough listen and not come away deeply impressed by Rud’s achievement. It’s a deeply ambitious project to be sure, but it’s also a resounding success, establishing Rud not simply as a first-rate jazz guitarist but as a formidable songwriter and distinctive Canadian artist with a compelling vision to share.
You can order your copy of Notes on Montréal here.