WHITE MAGIC at Sneaky Dee?s (431 College), Monday (December 3). $10. 416-603-3090. Rating: NNNNN
The Todd Haynes-directed Bob Dylan cinematic reverie I'm Not There presents a refreshing perspective on the iconic singer/songwriter's life and work through creative casting, like having Cate Blanchett put a sock in her pants to portray one of Dylan's various incarnations.
Haynes also makes some equally inspired soundtrack choices. Instead of simply using familiar Byrds and Jimi Hendrix versions of Dylan's best-loved songs or bringing in a bunch of top-selling pop stars, he has contemporary musicians with unique voices revise Dylan's lesser known classics. So along with Sonic Youth having a go at the Basement Tapes outtake I'm Not There, we hear Sufjan Stevens singing Ring Them Bells, Mark Lanegan bringing the darkness to Man In The Long Black Coat and the Black Keys busting up The Wicked Messenger.
Among the covers contributed by Yo La Tengo, Stephen Malkmus, John Doe, Calexico and others, there's Mira Billotte of White Magic delivering As I Went Out One Morning with an otherworldly sweetness Dylan's version from John Wesley Harding never had.
Like Blanchett doing his Bobness, not an obvious pick, but it works.
"John Wesley Harding happens to be one of my favourite albums, so it was a strange coincidence to have someone suggest recording that song, because I'd been thinking about covering it for years," says Billotte on the phone from Los Angeles. "It's a good example of why I love his songwriting - he's able to create really strong visual images with very few well-chosen words. It's pure poetry."
This isn't the first time Billotte has benefited from some weird synchronicity, which makes her group name seem all the more appropriate.
"I definitely believe you can affect the world around you by concentrating on what you want to happen. I don't want to go around saying I'm a psychic, but I've had some very interesting experiences. When something you saw in a dream comes true you can chalk it up to chance, but deep down inside I know when something changes in my environment, it's because I've been focusing on it."
Although Billotte has been performing the traditional folk tune Katie Cruel for years, she only got around to recording the song she learned from Karen Dalton's version with White Magic in 2006.
It just so happens that Drag City's release of the Katie Cruel single in September was perfectly timed to capitalize on the unexpected resurgence of interest in Dalton that followed Light in the Attic's reissue of her long out-of-print 1971 album In My Own Time.
Stranger still, the tale goes all the way back to Billotte's time in Washington, DC, performing with her older sister, Christina Billotte (of Slant 6 and Autoclave), in Quix*o*tic 10 years ago.
"Ian MacKaye, who produced our Quix*o*tic records, introduced me to Karen Dalton's music," she says. "Some people might be surprised to hear that he even listens to folk music. He gave me a Karen Dalton tape, which changed my life.
"So it was really weird for me to finally decide to record Katie Cruel, and then all these other people are suddenly playing Katie Cruel, which they heard on the In My Own Time reissue. It's just one of those crazy things."
Additional Interview Audio Clips
Mira Billotte explains why "freak folk" doesn't suit White Magic
One of the more intriguing apsects of White Magic's music is the use of unusual time signatures. Evidently it is not something they have been working on.