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DAILY GLEANER REVIEW

Plaskett’s Three is ‘personal, transfixing’

Published Saturday April 25th, 2009

Joel Plaskett: Three – Maple Music

Nova Scotia’s Joel Plaskett has spent the last 20 years doing what others believe cannot be done.

He fronted Thrush Hermit during the days when the Halifax scene was our own little version of the Seattle scene of the 90s. While most of his compatriots moved to bigger climes for the sake of career and market growth (case in point, Sloan) or simply dissolved after that little heyday, Plaskett has spent the ensuing years becoming one of Canada’s most consistent and respected musical artists.

Wide national acclaim finally came Plaskett’s way with 2007’s Ashtray Rock. Cut with his long-time backing band The Emergency, it was an unabashedly whimsical, semi-autobiographic concept album. While most people consider the whole concept album idiom to be passe, Plaskett triumphed with it. In fact, Ashtray Rock ended up sweeping the 2008 East Coast Music Awards held here in Fredericton

Plaskett’s latest recording is an even more audacious effort. It is a three-CD album released smack dab in the middle of an era when many are saying that the album form is dying. Aptly entitled Three, the album is also marked by having no less than 14 out of the 27 total songs with a word or two repeated thrice as the song title.

Plaskett played a concert at The Playhouse Wednesday night in support of this new release.

Collectively, the album is a song cycle that chronicles a working musician dealing with the joys and traumas of life. Broken romance, old high school friendships that have subsided and moved into awkward encounters, lost loved ones, and simple, quirky moments of everyday life are all delivered in what long-time fans will recognize as Plaskett’s signature style, progressions, and rhythms.

Seemingly as semi-autobiographical with respect to Plaskett’s life today as was Ashtray Rock of his older teen years, the album manages to be personal and transfixing without ever seeming trite or self-indulgent.

This album, however, is a solo effort. Plaskett does welcome The Emergency on a few tracks, but more common guests this time around include female vocalists Rose Cousins and Ana Egge, Dale Murray of Cuff The Duke on pedal steel, David Christensen on sax, various East Coast musicians on tin whistles and fiddles, and even his dad Bill Plaskett on guitar and bouzouki.

In general, the first CD is the one with more country spices, the second is the fusion of East Coast strains with Plaskett pop, and the third is an amalgam. An equally general statement is that the album takes the listener through a homecoming, a road trip, a relationship shatter, and a return to geographical and personal roots.

Musically, the material ranges from solo acoustic reflections and homeshopped songs with drum machines fused with musicians on the one hand to more fully developed excursions on the other. The latter range from slick pop akin to Plaskett’s 2005 solo album La De Da to his harder-edged hooks with The Emergency.

Plaskett is incredibly gifted, incredibly prolific and incredibly true to himself as a musician. Three proves this again – and again – and again.

Fredericton-based freelance writer Wilfred Langmaid has reviewed albums in The Daily Gleaner since 1981, and is a past judge for both the Junos and the East Coast Music Awards. His column appears each Saturday.