PO' GIRL CD release at Hugh's Room (2261 Dundas West), Sunday (February 4). $12-$14. 416-531-6604. Rating: NNNNN
For tons of artists, home is the place they have to keep leaving in order to build - financially and emotionally - a complete life.
Or it's whatever shitty motel room they're drinking cheap beer in during the downtime before the umpteenth of umpteen-squared shows. Or it's a van that keeps breaking down on the Trans-Canada Highway.
So you can see why the latest album by Po' Girl, the eclectic roots-jazz-blues fusion outfit co-founded by Be Good Tanya Trish Klein, centres around the concept of home, even when the connection isn't explicit.
But these aren't typical on-the-road songs. Home To You (Nettwerk) clearly sounds like the work of folks wholly disenchanted with where they come from.
"I keep wondering when I'm finally gonna melt down and run away and live in the woods in a shack," laughs Klein, whose current and long-time hometown is Vancouver. "All of us in the band are vagabond souls who grew up with similar fucked-up childhood stuff, and we were all kinda forced to flee home at 14 or 15 to find the right path."
Fiddle ace Diona Davies was adopted by a family of white mill workers and felt like a perpetual outsider growing up in Vancouver Island's Port Alberni. She didn't learn about her complex heritage half First Nations, half Chinese, she comes from a line of hillbilly musicians and bikers until she was 18. Montreal-bred Po' Girl co-founder Allison Russell's Caucasian mom married, in Klein's words, a "racist pedophile" when her biological dad went back to Grenada; Russell escaped to Vancouver as soon as she left high school.
Klein, who hails from the Prairies but moved through a series of temporary homes as a kid while her dad tried to find work, didn't have it any better.
"My mother was mentally ill, my father died, and I got into an awful abusive relationship. I ended up selling drugs to survive," she explains. "I landed in Vancouver when I was 17. We all kind of gravitated together somehow, this scene of West Coast musicians who were doing folk and jazz revival stuff."
Based more in Gillian Welch-style ragged roots than the breezy N'Awlins jazz-inflected fusion of Po' Girl's previous releases, Home To You moves from the loss and redemption lament Skies Of Grey through mournful "ain't got nobody" country-soul rollers to anthemic driving songs. It's a song cycle based on constant motion.
On a superficial psychological level, you can connect the voracious attachment to traditional forms of music in Po' Girl to the band members' troubled relationships with their own backgrounds. There's something fascinating about the way Klein, Russell, Davies and multi-instrumentalist Awna Teixeira push themselves to connect with cultural histories even when they're not their own.
"Diona travelled to Romania with an ethnomusicologist and [BC accordion-wielding folk-punk] Geoff Berner to document the music of the region. Did you know there are more fiddle players per capita there than anywhere else in the world?" Klein marvels.
"There's this amazing tradition of fiddle music that was almost wiped out by the Holocaust, because so many of the players were Jews and Gypsies. There are only a few people left behind, and they're now in their 90s. None of the music was documented, so Diona went and drank plum moonshine and bribed these dudes, who've survived death camps and things I can't even imagine, to teach her these crazy Gypsy fiddle parts."
Though Po' Girl's amalgamation of so many disparate styles jazz, Celtic, folk, Gypsy into a curious roots-based blend may alienate traditional purists, particularly when they hear idiosyncrasies like C. R. Avery's beatboxing on a track like Nine Hours To Go, Klein insists there are clear links between the genres they're exploring.
"All of it comes from working-class roots, from Gypsy to hiphop. It's how people express themselves and eke joy out of hard living. The human spirit is an awesome thing," she continues. "What people create in the face of adversity is a pure expression of love and pain and truth and joy and all that no bullshit and marketing and poser stuff."
Music from Po' Girl
Drive All Night