Greg Keelor at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Tuesday (March 29). $20. 416-870-8000, 416-532-1598. Rating: NNNNN
Greg Keelor is having a dance with death.
As in danse macabre, a phrase he learned from a drunk staggering around the streets of Peterborough yelling, "It's a macabre day!"
This, he feels, describes his new solo album perfectly.
Seven Songs For Jim is Keelor's bold approach to grieving his father's death.
"I'm embracing death, and dancing with the skeletons on this tour," he says on the phone from his farmhouse just outside Port Hope.
It's perhaps a morbid-sounding statement, but Keelor feels he's just accepting a part of his father's life. He's far from gloomy talking about his blooming love for his father throughout our conversation, but since this is his first interview about the album, he hasn't really considered what it will be like speaking to strangers like me about something so personal.
"I don't know how it's going to be. It's over a year now since he died. A year ago I couldn't have talked about it with you, but a year ago I was still making this record."
The album is a map of his mourning. Songs about the hospital or about Keelor cleaning out his father's smoke-filled apartment after his death are deeply felt and haunting. The three months he spent recording Seven Songs are a bit of a blur now. Cooped up at his isolated place, sometimes spending 30 hours straight recording in his home studio - usually stoned, and dealing with intense emotions - he found the process necessary and healing.
"I just did this album for myself. Any emotional upheavals I've had in my life I meditate on with a guitar in my hands, and it always ends up being a song. It's just how I deal with stuff."
Listening to his devastating, cathartic tales feels like an invasion of his privacy. But Keelor doesn't see it that way.
"Maybe to somebody else it might be weird to record seven songs like this - as if your listening to it would be like eavesdropping or intruding. But as a singer/songwriter, I love that brokenhearted melancholy."
Don't expect his small tour with the Sadies' Travis Good to be a sad affair. Keelor wants people to have a good time.
"I like it when people are a little drunk, listening to a bit of a song and having a bit of a chat. I want to hear the beer bottles roll underneath the chairs. I don't want a sombre show."
With Are You Ready?, Blue Rodeo's new release, just weeks away, Keelor had to choose whether to release his album before or after that tour. Describing Seven Songs as an album best listened to at 4 in the morning while watching the snow fall, he decided now was the best moment.
"I always sort of joke that when you buy a Blue Rodeo record you can get my record for half-price with it."