CD review: Lennie Gallant Live
By Rachel Jagt
There are two key things that I look for in a live show and on live recordings: the quality of the performance on its own and the energy of the audience. This record is strong on both counts. It was about time that Prince Edward Island's pride and joy, singer/songwriter Lennie Gallant, released a live record.
Known throughout the music business for his meticulous attention to sound quality in his live shows, Gallant does not disappoint on his latest release. In addition to lead vocals, he plays bodhran, acoustic guitars, and harmonica. His band, and most notably violinist Chris Church, fills out the sound. Gallant is obviously a consummate performer, and his audience participates without drowning him out. The record includes five previously unrecorded songs. In my experience, this is unusual for a live recording; it makes the release much more than a live greatest hits record. Perhaps it's the thrill of the unknown, but Gallant gets the strongest audience reaction on these tracks.
For the most part, these are the standouts. The opening track, 'Feel the Pull of the Fundy Tide', gets the crowd going with its infectious energy. Gallant's concert band back him up very well, especially Church, whose emotional playing is evident on almost every track. Translated as "the waltz of the waves", 'La Valse des Vagues' is the French version of 'The Open Window', from the CD of the same name. Gallant obviously enjoys singing in French, and the message of the waltz comes through even if you don't speak the language.
'Part of Me', co-written with Newfoundland singer/songwriter Chris LeDrew, is a skillfully written song about the contrasts involved with love and lust. 'Coal Black' is a violin-driven song "written in the emotional aftermath of the Westray mine disaster where 26 men were buried twice - once under tons of Pictou County rock and coal¼and secondly under tons of bureaucratic paperwork." Both crying music and angry lyrics make Gallant's point here; and the audience apparently agrees with him. On the final unreleased track, 'Pieces of You', Gallant tones down the tempo and shows his sensitive side as he retells a story told to him on an airplane by a heartbroken passenger who could not stop seeing reminders of the woman who left.
The rest of the record contains excellent live recordings of album cuts. The highlights of this group are Gallant's best-known tune, 'Peter's Dream', and 'Destination'. Gallant wrote Peter's Dream as he watched the sun rise over Rustico Harbour in PEI. An anthem for the forgotten and broken fishermen of Atlantic Canada, it bleeds with the anger of men whose livelihood was abused and taken away. The audience loves this song and provides percussion during the chorus. In 'Destination', penned while on a cross-country train ride, Gallant uses a bodhran to recreate the rhythm of the train, because he was not allowed to play his guitar onboard. There's nothing quite like the sound of a bodhran, especially live, and it is rare for bands to use it as more than a backup instrument. A clever mix of French and English lyrics allows Gallant to throw himself into the rhythm. The record also includes two hidden tracks - one is a recording of waves crashing on the shore and the other is another French song.
There is not a lot of banter from Gallant on this record, but his unique blend of folk, rock, and pop is so engaging that you hardly notice. If you've never heard Gallant's music before, this record isn't a bad place to start - the sound quality is great and there's a good mix of the different types of music he plays.