DOTTIE CORMIER BAND with the BACKSTABBERS and BROTHERS COSMOLINE at the Tranzac Club (292 Brunswick), Friday (November 16). $8. 416-923-8137. Rating: NNNNN
when toronto bluegrass flag-ship Heartbreak Hill sank, there was some concern about what it might mean to the city's thriving roots country underground. But their breakup hasn't destroyed the local scene. If anything, the group's split seems to have boosted creative activity in three different directions.
Lead singer/bassist Jenny Whiteley began exploring a more contemporary country sound, brother Dan Whiteley and Chris Quinn began delving deeper into traditional bluegrass with Crazy Strings, and Dottie Cormier's impressive new debut disc, Oh Happy Day (Twenny), shows her turning to classic country and honky-tonk.
Because Cormier worked so well in what was largely a support role in Heartbreak Hill -- strumming rhythm guitar and singing high harmony -- many will be surprised to hear how easily and effectively she's made the transition to being the centre of attention. It makes sense; she's just playing the sort of music she knows best.
"When I moved back in with my parents," says Cormier, "I started listening to a lot more older country again -- Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette -- because those are the records they have at home.
"At the same time, Carolyn Mark and I were becoming really good friends. I went out west with her and we'd listen to Wanda Jackson, Brenda Lee and the Nashville soundtrack. That's all the stuff I grew up with.
"I still remember my dad coming home from work, sitting down with a guitar and a six-pack and getting me to sing George Jones and Hank Williams songs with him all night. He told me that one day we'd be famous singers just like the Kendalls."
The childhood memory stuck with Cormier and provided the inspiration for an endearing duet with her father, Ronnie Cormier, on Hank and Audrey Williams's Lost On The River. Cut with simple acoustic guitar backing, the minute-and-a-half exchange is one of the album's unexpected delights.
"We were looking for the right duet, so I asked Tom Parker from the Backstabbers to see if he could dig through his old 78s and find us something great.
"Then I sat down with my dad and we thought, why not just do what we've always done -- Hank Williams? He found this Hank and Audrey recording of Lost On The River, and it seemed right. He came into the studio and got his vocal down in one take. Bang. No problem.
"Only, Don Kerr, who was producing the session, accidentally erased the first three seconds of the song, which meant Ron had to do his vocals over. This time he was a bit nervous and started worrying, "Oh, Dottie, I don't know if I can do it again.' But he came through, and it was great. Just like the Kendalls."