Jeremy Dutchers debut album is full of musical mastery

Jeremy Dutcher - Wolastoqiyik LintuwakonawaIndependentClassicalRating: NNNNNSongs and stories are how a culture preserves itself, and stamping them out has historically.

Jeremy Dutcher – Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa

Rating: NNNNN

Songs and stories are how a culture preserves itself, and stamping them out has historically been one of the key forces of colonialization. Jeremy Dutcher is part of a new wave of artists using music to keep culture alive.

The songs on the Toronto-based artists debut album have their origins in wax cylinders that he found in the Canadian Museum of History archives and painstakingly transcribed by ear. The songs are traditional but rare, unfamiliar even to many of the elders of the Wolastoq First Nation (around New Brunswick) from where Dutcher has his roots.

If it sounds more like an academic project than a musical one, its not. Dutcher is an ethnomusicologist, but hes also a classically trained operatic tenor and he has one of those breathtaking, indescribable voices that can stop you dead in your tracks. And, in opposition to the distancing (and largely mythical) objectivity of academic music study, you can hear and feel the love infusing each of the songs, even if few will understand the words.

Thats because, for Dutcher, the songs are his own history, and theyre without the imperial baggage of similar anthropological projects from Alan Lomax on outwards. You can hear the voices of his ancestors combining with his own, updated with mesmerizing piano melodies, strings, elements of pop and opera. There are moments that will appeal to fans of Owen Pallett, Anohni and Radiohead, and also fans of classical and jazz. Its often ineffable, but indescribably powerful.

Dutcher is harmonizing with the past and echoing it outward into the future. There are fewer than a hundred speakers of the Wolastoqey language left, but if theres any justice this album will ensure the words will resonate for generations to come.

Top track: Pomok Naka Poktoinskwes

Jeremy Dutcher plays the Great Hall on June 9. See listing. | @trapunski

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