The latest album by Toronto-based singer-songwriter Danny Michel was recorded in Belize with members of the Garifuna Collective. Entitled Blackbirds are Dancing Over Me, it’s an inspired work, full of inventive guitar, tropical percussion and truthful lyrics, the Ottawan Citizen reports.
To play it exactly how it was recorded would require the assistance of the Garifuna, but what indie-folk musician can afford to fly in 10 extra musicians every time he has a gig? Not Michel. At least, not at the moment.
During the first concert of a two-night run at the National Arts Centre’s Studio on Wednesday, March 27, Michel hinted that talks are in the works to bring the Garifuna to Canada this summer for a few shows, possibly including the Black Sheep Inn. “It’s snowballed into bigger things that we ever could have imagined,” he said, and didn’t even mention the album’s Juno nomination for world music album of the year.
No question, it’s a terrific album, but for now, Michel has been playing the music in the practical scaled-down quartet format. Joining him at the NAC was a rhythm section and a Mexican-born multi-instrumentalist named Quique Escamilla, who also provided a solo opening set.
Despite the stripped-back approach to the tunes, the music did not suffer. Michel has surrounded himself with top-notch players that he obviously gets along with, and their timing was impeccable, both musically and in balancing Michel’s quirky personality. Together, they demonstrated a spirit of comraderie that made it seem like they were having more fun than anyone else in the room.
In fact, I’m not sure I’ve seen Michel, a former Ottawa resident, in such a good mood, cracking jokes and indulging in some good-natured teasing of his fellow musicians. The joy permeated the music, from the longing of Maybe You Can Find It In Your Heart to the spirited groove of What Colour Are You, a song named after the tag line for a mood ring.
Through it all, Michel gave a wonderful performance, coming across as mix of Paul Simon and Elvis Costello. His lightly husky singing voice was full of character while his guitar-playing ability made jaws drop with its inventiveness. Power chords were tempered with African-inspired licks and Latin flourishes, as well as the occasional string-bending slide.
An unassuming fellow with a twinkle in his eye and a wide grin, Michel and his mates laid on the harmonies for the smouldering A Cold Road, punched up the melodies for Sad and Beautiful World and Survivor’s Guilt and felt compelled to break up two back-to-back love songs (White Lightning and Invisible Man) with a surprisingly silly rendition of Chitty Chitty Bang. A handful of older songs, including Feather Fur and Fin and If God’s On Your Side Then Who’s on Mine, rounded out the set.
After receiving a call during the show from Manx owner Chris Swail, which he didn’t take, Michel also paid tribute to the Elgin Street watering hole that celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. “I used to live in Ottawa and play at the Manx all the time,” he said, extending an invitation for post-show beverages. “I think we should all go there after.”