Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself

Hello, and welcome to my very first blog post! It’s definitely an honour and privilege to be asked to contribute to such an informative, insightful and honest magazine. I’m excited to be a part of a magazine with such a long history in this city, and grateful to have the opportunity to write about what I love!

I suppose some introductions and background are in order. I’ve devoted most of my life, nearly 30 years now, to working in the arts. I was a full-time musician for fifteen of those, and a stand-up comic for another twelve, as well as a working actor and voice-over actor, having written and performed copy for everything from documentaries to screenplays. I was also a featured voice-actor on the award-winning Kevin Spencer cartoon series for 5 seasons. Oh, and before you ask, yes, my parents are very proud of me, thank you very much.

In the course of my other artistic pursuits over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to perform as a singer with various bands, in bars, theatres, stadiums, amphitheatres, community centres, clubs and dives, all across the country and the U.S. But I was born and raised, in what if I may humbly say, is the best city in an already pretty great country, Ottawa. My hope and aim in writing this blog is to create a “hodge-podge” of ideas about arts-related topics which interest me, and will hopefully interest you too. They say that you should write about what you know… well, in my case that’s a whole lot of pop culture, particularly my love of music.

And sure, we’ll be talking about music but, slowly but surely (much like my receding hairline), we’ll also be talking about movies, stand-up comedy, comic books, television, collectables, and maybe even about something shiny I found on my way to work one day! And sometimes we’ll be talking about that stuff all in the same post! In short, a whole bunch of goodies, all jammed in under one roof. (Just like the old Stittsville flea market used to be! R.I.P.) We’ll have record reviews, interviews, live-show reviews, and of course, we’ll be talking about our eye-gougingly good, and almost criminally-underrated arts scene, right here at home. To sum up, this blog is going to work a lot like my brain does (much to the chagrin of my parents and high school teachers). By that I mean, we’ll be moving from topic to topic pretty quickly sometimes, but trust me when I say, there will always be a point.

I look forward to the inevitable growing pains and bumps along the way, but I hope that you’ll enjoy the ride as much as I will! I can promise that I’ll try always to be entertaining, insightful, irreverent, funny, informative, charming, heartwarming, good for you, filled with fibre, well-rested, and smelling of fabric softener. But most of all, I’ll always be honest. I know we won’t always see eye to eye, but I look forward to disagreeing with many of you! I’ll be posting as often as I can, feel free to drop by anytime!

Down the pipe:

I’ve got interviews coming up with Jesse Labelle, David Usher, Danielle Duval and Lynn Myles! Lots of new music coming up, and you can always read about it here! So have a sit-down, it’ll be fun!

Jesse Labelle’s Two

Jesse Labelle’s latest release, Two, is certainly earnest. Filled with songs about love and loss, and Labelle’s reflections on them. I should be upfront by saying that I’m not a huge fan of intense production, as the songs seem to always get lost in a morass of the latest studio techniques. That being said, while this record struggles with that, it’s still an honest account of Labelle’s point of view on heartbreak and redemption. This is a record about romance and youthful indiscretions, as well as the lessons that go along with them. Labelle’s attempts at writing about the dichotomies and “grey areas” of relationships are couched in intensely pop-flavoured melodies. There are shades of soul, and even a little bit of R&B on this record, and the feelings of yearning, longing and restlessness that those genres evoke, are echoed on Two.

It’s an album whose songs would well suit the kind of emotionally-charged soundtracks to shows like Grey’s Anatomy or One Tree Hill. They are sometimes reflective, sometimes melancholic, and sometimes triumphant, and overall, are well produced and well performed. Labelle is a talented musician, and his decision to make this a piano-based record, as well as his sense of dramatic tension and build-up, are used well. That Labelle can write hooky, anthemic songs is not in question. But his austere and minimalist approach, as in songs like Kryptonite, works in a much more resonant and striking way than the lush, over-the-top approach. While songs like the quirky and rhythmic, One Last Night, with it’s Ain’t-Nothing-Going-to-Break-My-Stride vibe and somewhat satirical lyrics, pull together a playful sense of movement and optimism.

I asked Labelle what was different in terms of his writing approach on this record, versus his last. “I was very focused on the idea of live shows,” he says. “I wanted to bring an aspect of live performance to the album, and I wanted it to be more dynamic and vocally challenging.” He sums up this approach in three words: “Bigger, louder, brighter.” Labelle recently had the opportunity to see Elton John belt out the iconic Your Song, which was not only a high point in his life, he says, but also a reminder of what makes a classic and timeless piece of music. Labelle says his first exposure to music can be traced back to his father’s record collection. Where artists like James Taylor, Elvis Presley and Eric Clapton formed the beginnings of his love for what would become his life’s goals and ambitions. Jesse was reminded of those ambitions recently, when he stumbled across some promotional merchandise he first had made 10 years ago. T-shirts emblazoned with a logo he designed, and later had tattooed on his wrist as a constant reminder of his goals.

Labelle partly defines success as the opportunity to bring his music to a wider audience, and says that he’s enjoying the challenge of writing on the road. But his early home life played a big part in forming his approach to writing a song. “I was very fortunate as a child”, says Labelle. “I had the chance to listen to so much music. I would spend hours picking songs apart, writing out the lyrics.”, and that early sense of dedication has led to Labelle’s sincere desire in understanding how a song works, and just as importantly, how a song connects with people in a live setting. Two certainly has the obligatory “stadium-sing-along-y” choruses in some of the songs, but the emotional depth in terms of the lyrics are sometimes young. Overall, Two has some high, and some not-so-high points, but it’s consistent and is a good showcase for Labelle’s talent. The strongest thing this record has going for it, is that Labelle is writing about things that are touchstones for all of us, things that we call relate to: new love, loss, growing up, growing old, hellos, goodbyes, and lessons learned.

Luigi Saracino is a musician, composer, writer, stand-up comic, actor, and voice-actor. Luigi loves living in Ottawa, is naturally buoyant in salt-water, and believes that “Slinkies” are powered by a combination of “magic” and “bluish-hued imps from the seventh dimension”. Luigi would also like everyone to know that he is only a little bit ticklish, and a huge sucker for any movie with Mandy Patinkin in it.