JOHN MILLARD AND HAPPY DAY at C'est What, January 15. Tickets: $6. Attendance: 50. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
even at their most reflective,John Millard's songs possess a certain whimsy. Maybe that's because the Toronto singer/songwriter's instrument of choice is the banjo, which, with its fidgety sound and plump body, conjures gauzy images of backwoods porch-picking. Doubters may consult Deliverance and The Beverly Hillbillies.Of course, whimsy isn't necessarily a bad thing on a January Monday, but you got the sense that the former Polka Dog's gig with new group Happy Day would be more simpatico with Puff The Magic Dragon than the subtly rendered free jazz presented by headlining trio Jean Martin, Justin Haynes and Kevin Turcotte.
Cramming as many bodies on the teensy stage as possibly in order to tease out his scribbly, nonconformist compositions, Millard -- abetted by bassist Rob Clutton, accordionist Allen Cole, percussionist Rob Power and bubbly backing singers Randi Helmers, Christine Brubaker and Karin Randoja -- presented an amiable face to the crowd, carefully detailing song origins with the zeal of a camp counsellor around the fire.
This being C'est What, however, the drone of several patrons near the back occasionally ambushed the ambience. But if that bothered Millard, he scarcely showed it. Instead, along with his clearly eager-to-please crew, he sailed through his folksy repertoire spinning tales of spiritual quests and life-affirming topography.
Plainly, though, the main draw was Turcotte, Martin and Haynes, as evidenced by the swell in attendance at 11 o'clock. The trio's airy, broadly drawn instrumental sketches stood in direct contrast to Happy Day's cheery sonics but were, in the end, far more intense. Good to know that even in the dead of winter there's something out there to see.