JIM BRYSON CD release, with STEPHEN STANLEY and ALUN PIGGINS at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Saturday (September 20), $8. 416-598-4753. Rating: NNNNN
even by his own admission, jim Bryson's biggest problem in the past was motivation, or a serious lack of it. The Ottawa songwriter always had the tunes. It was just the small matter of getting them out there and getting them heard that seemed to hold him back. Bryson even wrote a song about it, the charming Somewhere Else, which talks of losing his hometown's confidence because he couldn't get his business together, all this while he watched pals like Kathleen Edwards rocket skywards from the sidelines.
That might not be a problem any more. He signed a deal with fledgling Universal offshoot Orange Record Label, and Bryson's new The North Side Benches disc is the record that should bag him the wider recognition he deserves.
It's the closest thing to a pop record he's done, littered with la-la singalong choruses and with less of the twang of his The Occasionals debut. It carries on his running dialogue with Ottawa and draws inspiration from everything from baseball to a Jhumpa Lahiri novel.
It also finds Bryson playing with the process a bit more, whether it's pulling back from a full-throttle delivery to sing softly, or mixing field recordings of loons on a lake with radio static and a stripped-down piano ballad.
"This is me making a record, and the last one was me playing songs with a band," Bryson reasons. "The one thing I wanted to do was sing the way I sing in my house, when I'm playing guitar in the morning. That's what my voice sounds like.
"I got tired of playing loud rock shows, and I learned that by screaming your head off you can blow your voice out, which I did for eight months. It's a terrible thing to say, but this feels more like comfortable shoes. Isn't that what everyone wants - comfortable shoes?"
So why has he changed the faces around him? On his current tour, and for the foreseeable future, Bryson has ditched his airtight backing band, the Occasionals, for another collection of Ottawa players. Band switches are hardly breaking news, but the Occasionals, particularly Ian LeFeuvre's flashy guitar smarts, have been instrumental in shaping Bryson's sound.
"There wasn't any option," Bryson says. "The other guys can't tour. They have good jobs and new babies, and we just couldn't make it work.
"These new guys are great players, though, and it's given me the chance to change things up and try to play the songs as you actually hear them on the record. The drummer's drumming with one hand and playing keyboards with the other, and I'm playing guitar and keys at the same time. It's been an experiment in dexterity."
One song that may not sound as it does on the record is Sleeping In Toronto. The jangly power pop tune is The North Side Benches' lead single, but lately Bryson has been changing the opening line ("I got tired of sleeping in Toronto"), substituting Toledo or any other three-syllable name, for fear of a backlash from overly sensitive Torontonians.
"It's only when I'm in Toronto that I'm concerned that people will kick the shit out of me," Bryson laughs. "I was 100 per cent slightly worried that with SARS people would think it was an anti-Toronto anthem.
"Once you get to the second line of the song, though, you realize it has nothing to do with Toronto. It's just a word in the song."