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the Nice Toronto Star…

Not to be redundant, but here’s a nice Greg Quill article in the Star…

MUSIC – artsentertainment – Hard luck, heartbreak and humility

The concept album makes a comeback – but don’t tell that to these artists
Don’t call it a concept. While the idea of a story tying together an album may be reviving – acts such as Nine Inch Nails, My Chemical Romance and Ambition in Joel Plaskett’s record, but not the man.

May 20, 2007 04:30 AM
Greg Quill

Joel Plaskett’s bad day began when a blue jay was sucked into the engine of his Toronto-bound commercial aircraft just after takeoff in Sudbury.

First flight aborted to check engine damage. Long wait for a replacement plane. Quick hop to Pearson. No guitar on the luggage carousel on arrival.

“I found it an hour later in a section designated for oversized items,” said the 32-year-old Maritimes singer-songwriter, prolific recording artist and leader of the rock trio The Joel Plaskett Emergency, in the office of his record label, the mega-indie MapleCore, on Richmond St. W.

“I could have rented a car and driven to Toronto in less time than it took by plane,” he said, looking red-eyed and tired and more than a little ticked off.

What was meant to be a quick mid-tour visit to blitz the release of JPE’s third album, Ashtray Rock – it’s Plaskett’s fifth, if you include his two solo CDs, In Need of Medical Attention and La De Da – with a live radio solo performance and interviews with a handful of music journalists, was becoming a nightmare.

“But it just got worse. When I finally got to my hotel, there was no record of my reservation and no room available.”

No wonder he’s anxious to get back home to Dartmouth after this upcoming Friday’s and Saturday’s shows at the Opera House, the last dates in a tour that has sent Plaskett and bandmates Dave Marsh (drums) and Chris Pennell (bass) in a mad-ants’ dash around the country in support of the nominally conceptual Ashtray Rock.

“I love the Maritimes,” Plaskett said, stretching his long arms out across the company’s boardroom table and then waving them at the surrounding downtown towers. “I’ve never enjoyed spending much time in big cities. I couldn’t get comfortable here.”

Even so, Toronto seems comfortable with Plaskett. Back-to-back Opera House shows are proof he’s hot in a city that pays little attention to what happens elsewhere in Canada, and remains oblivious to his celebrity and numerous awards – three Juno nominations, a 2005 East Coast Music Award in the rock recording of the year category for JPE’s Truthfully, Truthfully, and two in 2006 (Male Artist of the Year and Songwriter of the Year) for La De Da.

Not that Plaskett – he has just returned from his second tour of Australia – seems to place much store in awards and other badges of music industry success. His boyish demeanour and enthusiastic chatter suggest an unwilling star, or one who works hard at not letting his ambition get the better of him.

“I grew up with people in Halifax and Dartmouth who helped me and took the time to explain things,” he said. “I want the music I make to be celebrated, but not glamourized.

“I sing about where I’m from and what I’ve seen, and if people respond to that, as they did in Australia, then I know I’m in the right place. When we play in New York, people scratch their heads, and I feel like a small-towner.

“I try to have a conversation with the audience. I try to dispel mystique. I just want to live like a human being.”

As evidence, there’s the narrative that runs through Ashtray Rock, a set of quirky, guitar-driven songs, produced by Toronto roots-rock icon Gordie Johnson, that’s being touted (not by Plaskett, mind you) as a concept, an oeuvre, an opus of import. If you listen with the right pair of ears you can discern a disconnected yarn about a band – maybe Plaskett’s first ensemble, Thrush Hermit? – wrought asunder by lust, betrayal and jealousy. The old love-triangle gambit.

“There is a story in there seen from three different perspectives,” Plaskett said. “But it’s not a detailed narrative, and not all the songs were written to fulfil the concept. Some go back to my teens, to 1992, ’84, ’98 … way at the bottom of my old song bag.

“I was trying to channel the sensation of playing music with my friends when I was young, and how fragile and exciting it was … but I don’t really know if any of that’s apparent to the listener. It doesn’t have to be … the songs stand by themselves.”

That ingenuousness and honesty remain days after our conversation has ended. It’s an attitude bred in the bone, and in the rich atmosphere of the Canadian Maritimes, where music is life and life music.

“Where I come from everyone’s so supportive. If there’s rivalry, it’s friendly rivalry, a challenge to raise the bar. It’s not every man for himself out there. It’s more like all for one. There’s no pedestal we can elevate to.

“And music is not a business. It’s a social thing, a way of life. Alcohol and tunes – they go together. It’s expected.”