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GABRIEL MINNIKIN and WAYNE PETTI at The Drake, Friday, January 4. Rating: NNN
Early January is a quiet time for music. So it seemed fitting that Halifax songwriter Gabriel Minnikin (now based in Manchester, UK), chose this week to make a re-appearance - his show at the Drake Hotel Friday night with Cuff The Duke's Wayne Petti was his first in Toronto in six years.
Minnikin is probably best known in Canada for his work in East Coast alt-country faves the Guthries, along with his sister, Ruth Minnikin and Dale Murray. (He played Marine Band, his contribution to Ruth's recent record The Minnikins' Photo Album, at the show).
During his subdued, unassuming set, Minnikin focused on songs from his third solo album, Parakeets With Parasols, which came out early last year in the UK but is just getting its Canadian debut now.
On the record, he's backed by an orchestra and a choir, so he spoke of the challenges of touring the material solo on acoustic guitar.
Luckily, the songs translate well bare-bones, thanks to Minnikin's low, gravely voice and strong songwriting. Like his younger sister, Minnikin has a vocal tendency to hover on and around certain notes with his voice, which gives his music a sorrowful and mellow feel; and he'll linger on slightly unusual guitar chords, colouring his songs with a hint of psychedelia.
But he also does straight-up country and folk tunes well, as evidenced by his simple lyrical agility on songs like Birthday Card Eyes, and his gentle finger picking on other tunes.
Minnikin told a story about playing a show with Justin Townes Earle in the UK, and Earle's bristly response to a request to play a Steve Earle song; needless to say Minnikin saved his cover of the older Earle's I'm Still In Love With You for us.
Petti - who played a great version of Stay during his opening set for a small crowd - came onstage to help out for the finale, A Christmas At Sea, though the collaboration was a bit anti-climactic and comical thanks to the trickiness of tuning Petti's 12-string acoustic (they eventually abandoned that effort).
Minnikin plays again tomorrow (Sunday) night at the Local with Tim Bradford.