More than 900 artists are displaying their talents at the annual Canadian Music Week festival. In addition to the concerts and showcase sets, CMW boasts industry shindigs and seminars, a film component and a comedy festival as well. With such choices, any “must see” events are up to individual taste and priorities. Still, we humbly suggest checking out the following four acts, who in turn, have their own ideas on who they plan on catching while they’re here.
Who: Halifax’s Mike O’Neill, a cat-loving singer-songwriter who just released the nicely crafted Wild Lines, a thoughtful album of Sloan ’n’ Beatles power pop. He’s also the bass-playing half of the critically-adored minimalist pop-rock duo The Inbreds, which is reuniting for CMW.
Wow: In heft and boldness, Mr. O’Neill’s old-school mustache rivals that of fellow CMW performer Burton Cummings (March 22, 6 p.m., at the Royal York, 100 Front St. W.).
Wish: He’s going to see Snailhouse, Mike Feuerstack's musical project (March 24, 9 p.m., Lee’s Palace, 529 Bloor St. W.). “He writes the prettiest melodies and the smartest lyrics,” says Mr. O’Neill, of his favourite singer-songwriter. He’s also stoked to catch the fuzz-rock duo PS I Love You (see below): “I'd steal a bike to see them.”
Where and When: Mr. O’Neill’s solo show at the Rivoli is an industry-only gig – you’ll need the secret Nova Scotia handshake to get in – but he’s giving a free pre-CMW performance at the Horseshoe on March 20 (11 p.m.). The Inbred reunion happens on March 24, midnight, at Lee’s.
Who: Cold Specks, which is the 23-year-old Al Spx from Etobicoke. She describes her sound as “doom soul” – a bluesy, profound style of southern music arrived at by diverse inspirations, from Tom Waits to Sister Rosetta Tharpe to James Carr.
Wow: She’s a bit of a sensation in England, even before the release of her debut album, I Predict A Graceful Expulsion, due out on May 22.
Wish: It’s hard to imagine two artists as disparate as the top-hatted guitarist Slash (onstage interview, March 23, 12:30 p.m., Concert Hall, Royal York; Concert, March 23, 11 p.m., Phoenix, 410 Sherbourne St.) and the earnest Vancouver troubadour Dan Mangan (March 24, 9:05 p.m. Royal York). But those are the two CMW acts Ms. Spx is keen on. Of her Arts & Crafts label-mate she says: “I saw Dan Mangan play at the Great Hall at CMW two years ago, and have been following his work ever since.”
Where and When: Cold Specks plays March 22, 9 p.m., at the Music Gallery, 197 John St.
Who: PS I Love You, a squalling-yet-melodic guitar/drum twosome from Kingston. Their sophomore album Death Dreams, comes out on May 8.
Wow: Paul Saulnier makes giant, gauzy sheets of noise from a double-neck guitar and manipulates bass pedals with his feet for the bottom end.
Wish: While the heavy-footed drummer Benjamin Nelson is looking forward to The Inbreds reunion (March 24, midnight, Lee’s), the fuzzy-faced Mr. Saulnier is dying to see The Muppet Movie on the big screen and listen to composer Paul Williams talk after the film (March 24, 4 p.m. NFB Cinema, 150 John St.): “I want to know what it's like writing songs for muppets.” Don’t we all.
Where and When: PS I Love You plays March 23, 10 p.m., at Lee’s Palace.
Who: Katie Moore, the sweetly-warbling singer-songwriter from Montreal who arrives with a warmly folk-rocking band.
Wow: You’ve heard the expression “it sold for a song,” but how much is a song worth? In Ms. Moore’s case, it’s a tidy $5,000, which is the amount she was awarded for winning last year’s SOCAN ECHO Songwriting Prize. The winning composition was the graceful, sixties-folk-siren-styled Wake Up Like This, off her Montebello disc.
Wish: Martha Wainwright is who Ms. Moore plans to see. “I have long been a big fan of her mum and aunt's band, and it was a big honour for me to sing Heart Like a Wheel for Anna McGarrigle last year,” she says. “They have songs you can only dream of writing, and the talent really runs in the family. I hope Martha does numbers from her Piaf tribute album, but either way it's going to be a great show and it will be my first time seeing her live.”
Where and When: Katie Moore plays March 24, 10 p.m., at the Drake Underground, 1150 Queen St. W.
Canadian Music Week happens March 21 to 25. For an astounding and outstanding amount of information: canadianmusicfest.com.