The last Gertrudes record came out eight years ago. Since then, things have happened for us: babies, new jobs, changes in government, children growing into incredible adults. The summers got hotter, and a global plague revealed the tremendous inequality on which Western society is founded.
The last few years have been a real slap in the face, hey?
We've tried to take these things in stride, which has not really been that easy. Watching global affairs take a nose-dive under the Trump administration was a burn, as was watching our own safety nets get smashed by not just one, but two Ford brothers in Ontario. We delighted in one another's company, but we all got so busy. And then came the big pandemic pause button: a full stop to our ongoing puttering through life, and a wakeup call to focus on the really important things.
From the pleasant isolation of our respective middle-class homes, we thought we'd beat boredom and anxiety by making something together. Annie pulled out some old fiddle tunes to give us something to work with, Greg set new words to these old melodies, and we bounced tracks around between our isolated households. Just like the pandemic, things got weird, and then better; the songs were sometimes beautiful and sometimes and really off the rails. We thought about our neighbours, and what we were all going through, and how we felt so powerless that things were so unfair. We thought about celebrating love, about having a nice home or no home at all; about vegetables and fear and our dogs and the people who annoy us and domestic violence; and how, once again, the things that really seem to matter are having enough to eat, a safe place to live, and happy friendships in a supportive community. Without being too trite about the ongoing disastrous state of the world and the desperately unfair distribution of resources, this album is yet another celebration of hope in the face of disaster. Once again we dedicate the album to our families and friends, who we think are some of the finest people in the whole world.
Each of the tunes was re-written to address the particular challenges of the modern day, while honouring the people who wrote these songs and kept them alive, regardless of whatever tragedies or moments of happiness or migrations were going on in their lives and times.
We'll let you know a little bit about what was going on in our heads when we sung them:
Terpenes. Every fall, the vegetable preservers amongst us collapse under the weight of yet another bountiful green tomato harvest. We don't want to waste food! But wow, there's a limit to how much a person can pickle. Meanwhile our neighbours lost their minds months ago and have been yelling about it at all hours ever since. We're with ya, buddy. We don't have the solution, but want some chutney? “Wolves A-Howling,” Traditional Southeast USA since at least 1920.
Emergency to Emergency. Enough said.”The Rocky Road to Dublin.” D.K. Gavin, mid-1880's Ireland.
Headlines. Anyone else tired of news interviews with old white men who go off about the evil of capital gains taxes and how anybody can break the glass ceiling if they just work hard enough? We’ve met Anishinaabe women who spend their spare time gardening in Indigenous languages with children; we'd like the headlines to tell us more about them. “Old Bunch of Keys or Whole Bunch of Keys,” traditional Irish by way of America.
Parham. We've all met guys we don't like. Usually life's been hard to them, but that's hard to recall when they're swiping your beer from the fridge at a party (get your own beer, buddy!), grabbing your sister's ass, or taking pot shots at your neighbours while setting fire to the church. “Rakish Paddy,” traditional Irish (originally Scottish) session tune, since at least 1780.
Staring Down the Barrel. One thing amusing about gentrification is watching the lovely new family - like, really, genuinely lovely, and their kids look lovely too - spend half a million on the place the SWAT team cordoned off a few years ago, or the place where the guy died quietly on the porch, or the place where the TV flew out the window one night. We're learning some lessons, for sure: if somebody bites you when you're down, it's fair to tell your friends not to trust them, even if they're very well-dressed. “Grey Owl,” used with permission of the author, Métis fiddle star John (Jerry) Arcand.
Boys’ Town. Inherited wealth is something we really haven’t got figured out. It seems so unreasonable that some people have this advantage while others don’t, especially in the face of wildly rising land prices. Should we give our old house to our son? “Sail Away Ladies,” blend of African and Celtic melodies and words, southern USA prior to 1900.
Forced Eviction. Y'know what sucks? Not having somewhere to live and having everything you own piled on your bike trailer, and then having to go in somewhere to pee and not having somewhere to lock your stuff on your bike trailer. The Gertrudes recorded this song to highlight the situation of our neighbours at the Belle Park encampment in Kingston in the summer of 2020. It’s based on a traditional West African greeting song, which was brought to North America by the incredible, resilient people who survived kidnapping and forced enslavement, and still kept many beautiful parts of their culture alive through generations of horrific conditions at the hands of slave-owning Canadians and Americans. We learned it as “Pompey Ran Away.” “Pompey” was a common name used for African men, by the bigots who claimed ownership over them and couldn’t be bothered to learn people’s real names. Make a break for it, Pompey! “Pompey Ran Away,” Traditional West African greeting song, by way of southeastern USA.
The Other Side. Sure hope we don’t squander this chance to remake the world. “Martin Wynne's #4” Sligo, Ireland, mid-19th Century; then London; then Chicago.
How Deep in the Ground? Mr. Blalock was working at a mill in Georgia. The mill shut down; he lost his job, returned home, and wrote this song. Anyone you know out of work? Anyone you know who had to move because of work, because we're in this strange time when money is king and employment equals meaning? Don't we all secretly long for independence from the financial system, long to just have a bit of land to call our own that we can tend to with love and stewardship? It's all fun and games on the homesteads until the Monsanto seeds blow in from next door. We're stuck with the system that we have so we better get in there, support the local organic farmers, and try to restore the soil that feeds us. “Farewell to Trion,” Joe Blalock, Alabama, USA, likely prior to 1900.
The Dancer. The Gertrudes, we're old now, and we're parents and aunties and uncles, and our hearts are constantly filled with the beauty and fierceness of our children. May we all be as brave and truthful as they are. “Lonesome John,” traditional Appalachian, since at least 1890.
Conjure. Go read Mary Oliver's poem "Ghosts.” We can't understand death and frailty any better than she does. The voices at the opening here are Greg’s mum, Ellen, and Nana, Bessie, who we think about every day. “Hunting the Buffalo,” southeastern USA, early 1900's.
New Carolina. Let's party like we used to, because as much as politics, corruption, and structural inequality bring ya down, there's nothing like losing a lover to really ruin your day. “Pretty Betty Martin,” southern mountains of the USA, prior to 1940.
released November 26, 2021
The Gertrudes are:
Pete Bowers on drums
Annie Clifford on fiddle, vocals, toy ukulele and percussion
Paul Clifford on upright bass and electronics
Jason Erb on vocals, piano, pianet, Hammond organ, Rhodes, electric bass, vocals and garbage can lid
Josh Lyon on accordion
Jason Mercer on the banjo, upright and electric bass, mellotron, field samples, moog and percussion
Matt Rogalsky on electric guitar, mandolin, vocals, field recordings, samples, and synth
Greg Tilson on the guitar, vocals, and keeping it all together
Produced by The Gertrudes, especially Matt Rogalsky and Jason Mercer.
Recording engineered by Jason Mercer, Matt Rogalsky, and Dylan Lodge. All drum recordings engineered by Jason Mercer at his Wolfe Island studio, Neptune’s Machine.
Choral ensemble arrangement and recording coordination on (4) by Open Voices Community Choir Director, Andy Rush. Additional vocal arrangements (4) by Georgette Fry. String quartet arrangements by Jason Mercer (4,6) and Matt Rogalsky (9). Horn arrangements by Benji Perosin and Jonathan Stewart except for (6) by Jason Mercer and (9) by Sylvain Gagnon and Spencer Evans. Vocal arrangements (4), string quartet arrangements (4,6,9) and horn arrangements (3,6,9,10) recorded at the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. String arrangement (5) recorded at the Next Church
Mixed by Jason Mercer (4, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12) at Neptune’s Machine and Matt Rogalsky (1, 2, 3, 5, 9, 11) at Memory Device.
Album mastering by Philip Shaw Bova.
Art by Jon Claytor & Design by Vincent Perez at Everlovin’ Press.
All songs arranged by The Gertrudes, and composed by Greg Tilson. “Staring Down the Barrel” was written with Annie Clifford. “Conjure” was written by Greg Tilson with Ezra Lyon and George Tilson, and Annie Clifford wrote “New Carolina” a decade ago. SOCAN protects our interests.
Matt Rogalsky wishes to thank the bees that filled an enormous black locust tree in Battersea Ontario on a very hot summer day, and whose drones are prominent on “How Deep in the Ground” (9).
A big thank you to the many special guests who made this, well, really special!
Teilhard Frost on fiddle, percussion and that big fat baritone sax; Anna Sudac, Anna Robertson Ritter, Janet Clare, George Tilson, Michelle Girouard, Georgette Fry and Moira Demorest for singing lovely lovely things; Danielle Lennon on the violin and viola; Jeff Hamacher on cello, Julia McFarlane on the viola and Lisa Draper on the violin; Joan Scaglione's telephone voice; Arden Rogalsky on percussion; Benji Perosin on the trumpet and Jonathan Stewart on the saxophones; Paul Saulnier on the electric guitar; Val Hamilton singing and on the low D whistle; Ezra Lyon and George Tilson on beats; The Goat Steppers Spencer Evans, Andy Love, and Sylvain Gagnon; The Kingston Symphony; members of Open Voices Community Choir and the other choral singers who sent recordings from their cellphones during lockdown: Andy Rush, Tammy and Skot Caldwell, Frank Poce, Gord McDiarmid, Gord Chiddicks, Stew Wilson, Detlef Stein, Rosemary Euringer, Leslie Saunders, Kim Duca, Bruce Downey, Andrea Putnam, John Thomas, Tim and Sherry Aylesworth, Moira Demorest, Kate Rogill, Kathy Lee, Jim Biagi, Alan Bronskill and Val Hamilton.
We’d like to note that our lives are deeply shaped by centuries of colonial history, which has threatened cultures around the world through plague, famine, governmental policies, and racism. Cultures threatened by colonial violence include those of the West African and Celtic peoples, whose melodies are featured here, and those of the Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee peoples on whose traditional lands we currently live.
“Good soil and sunshine to make them grow” sample from “5 Ways to Make Your Garden Regenerative” from YouTube channel “Kiss the Ground”: youtube.com/watch?v=kK6NrUmrV4A
The Gertrudes sound like an ol’ time saloon party in deep space … experimental noise beds with down home folk passengers, frolicking through original material, played by a veritable orchestra of instruments.