ANDREW COLLINS performing as part of Col. Tom's Swinging Door! at the Cameron House (408 Queen West), Wednesday (December 7), 7-9 pm. Pwyc. 416-703-0811. www.sytesounds.com.
And Foggy Hogtown Boyswith Cantores Celestes span>present Go Tell It On The Mountain at Runnymede United Church (432 Runnymede), Saturday (December 3), $20. 416-236-1522.
For many musicians playing in bands, a solo recording project presents a rare opportunity to realize some unfulfilled aspirations with a dream team of players, or at least some people you don't usually ride around with in a van.
That's the way Toronto roots mandolin master Andrew Collins saw his solo project, only his ultimate choice of collaborators happened to be already playing in his two bands, the Creaking Tree Quintet and the Foggy Hogtown Boys.
It should come as no great shock that the Little Widgets (Sytesounds) disc finds Collins taking some of the boundary-busting newgrass concepts from the Creaking Trees and the traditional feel of Hogtowners. Yet what he ends up with somehow doesn't sound quite like either - certainly not something like Blue Ming for example, in which Collins has his string accompanists join him on a bebop jazz-inspired tear.
It sounds amazing, but you have to wonder why Collins wouldn't want to work with some other folks for a change. You know, see how the other half lives.
"It was really a matter of choosing the right players who would best suit the sound of each song as I envisioned it," explains Collins. "I don't think I could've made this album without drawing on this incredible community of musicians we have here in Toronto.
"Having played with all these guys before, I understood their individual strengths, so as I considered the arrangement of each tune I could imagine what each player would do with a certain part. That proved to be very advantageous because we didn't have much time to rehearse. I basically ran through each tune with the players once, they got it, and we went right into recording."
Because Collins is far too tasteful a musician to be showy about his picking prowess, you don't get much virtuosic flash from him on Little Widgets.
The real focus here is the compositions, and even more so the arrangements. Collins confesses that he had some help with getting the harmonies straight, which isn't mentioned in the disc's credits. And better sit down for this one, it could be a deeply troubling revelation for some long-time roots music fans.
"I actually worked out a lot of the arrangements on my home computer. So when I was putting the songs together, I had to listen to these really horrible synthesized sounds playing the various parts so I could hear how everything was going to work together harmonically. Not only is the computer really bad at mimicking the tone of the various instruments, the parts are played with this really stiff, mechanical feel. So it was a genuine relief to hear actual musicians playing this stuff. They really brought my music to life."
Although Collins has no plans to assemble a group to take the music of Little Widgets on the road, he does have one major showcase planned - the album's entire cast will convene for one big show at the Glenn Gould Studio on February 3.
But this week, Collins will be special guests of Backstabbers pal Col. Tom Parker for Col. Tom's Swinging Door! at the Cameron Wednesday (December 7). There, a few tunes from the Little Widgets sessions might come up, since Collins's Creaking Tree bandmate John Showman, who fiddles up a storm all over the album, will also be present.
You can also catch Collins with the Foggy Hogtown Boys and the massive Cantores Celestes women's choir on Saturday in Go Tell It On The Mountain , a one-off collaboration on a program of traditional gospel hymns.
"When we first heard the concept of playing with a 40-person choir, it seemed like an interesting idea, but honestly, I didn't know if we were going to be able to pull it off. But now that we've rehearsed with the women, everything's come together amazingly well. I'm really looking forward to the show."