With the series Applause, Please, The Globe and Mail recognizes the efforts of dedicated citizens and those behind the scenes who make a difference in arts and cultural programs and institutions.
Every Thursday evening, Corin Raymond and the Sundowners play at Toronto’s Cameron House bar. Raymond, a cotton-voiced troubadour by trade, a raconteur by nature and a wordsmith by the grace of God and Leonard Cohen, calls the appointed hour the “red-velvet twilight,” owing to the early time slot and the onstage drapery. Between sets, a jug is passed around for the patrons to pay for the show. “This is your chance to turn your money into pure love,” Raymond will say. Everybody laughs, except for him.
What’s music worth? Dirty Mansions, the latest album from the Hamilton-based, Winnipeg-born songster, comes with a 264-page booklet that does a good job answering that question. In it, Raymond demystifies his songs, gives music lessons and explains himself.
“You may have noticed I’m willing to go some extra distance with what I do,” Raymond writes. There’s a chapter on streaming, and the micro-pennies paid per play. In an era where physical products are no longer in fashion and digital music flows free, Raymond is determined to give fans more than their money’s worth. Dirty Mansions is a mini memoir, a colourful call to arms, a liner-note package on steroids, a reasonable plea and 10 songs of intimate, lyrical music.
The penultimate track, Some Nights the Bar Lowers You, is a commiserative singalong, on which Raymond plays a B7 chord because his straight B is unreliable. “The B-7 limitation is now just part of my sound,” he explains. His virtuosity is with words: “The March sky is a dead-pigeon grey, it’s heavy like a tab you can’t pay.” The song was inspired by Chinese-Canadian bottle ladies, the Oregon poet William Stafford, Iranian hip-hop enthusiasts and a passed friend named Katie Lamek (who I feel we’d all wish we knew, and now we do thanks to Raymond’s booklet and album).
There’s a line, “He gave you his heart in a jar.” As Raymond is just 47, a long way off from organ donation, we can take it as a metaphor for what songwriters do. With Dirty Mansions, Raymond gives us something to think about the next time the pay-what-you-can jug comes our way. He raises the bar. Are we up to the challenge?
Corin Raymond plays Winnipeg’s West End Cultural Centre, Dec. 8.
Know of an unsung arts and culture hero who deserves wider acclaim? Send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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