Graeme Jefferies - Canary in a Coalmine LP
Graeme Jefferies - Canary in a Coalmine LP (Alley/USA)
The COVID-19 Pandemic and subsequent lockdown changed the way we saw the world and how we coped with it. One of the interesting side effects was the number of songwriters who buried themselves in self-imposed isolation and worked on music as a form of therapy and cathartic reaction to the loss of freedom during the compulsory stay-at-home situation.
This is certainly true of the new Graeme Jefferies solo album ~Canary in a Coalmine~. Unlike most of his previous releases (written and compiled over long periods of time), the songs on this album were mostly written around the same time and in the same place–all it took for that to happen was a global health crisis!
While ~Canary in a Coal Mine~ marks just Jefferies’ second official solo album, the tone and tenor resonate more with his soundtrack for the Leander Haußmann movie, ~Sonnen Allee~, than ~Messages For The Cakekitchen~. The 1999 German film was a top 5 movie and featured Nina Hagan and members of Einstürzende Neubauten. Canary opens with “I Wish We Could Turn Back the Clock Like It’s 1978,” a piano/vocal-only song written at the height of the first New Zealand lockdown. As such, the track pretty much sets the mood for the other nine songs on the album. It’s not all bleak and woe is me though. The next song, “I Want To Know What the West Wind Knows,” was inspired by a discarded out-of-print biography of Emily Bronte purchased for a couple of dollars at the Wellington City Library. The book touches on her private self-belief that the joy of her soul would return to the elements at the point of earthly departure. Inspired by Bronte, Jefferies offers some hope in the midst of the pandemic.
Other tracks like “Where Did We All Go Wrong?” and “Where Do We Run To Now?” wrestle with the challenges presented by the isolation and uncertainty we all felt during this time. Jefferies examines the limited choices we had during the pandemic using a smidgen of black humor, along with a pinch of finger pointing to create an engaging listen while still managing to bring some needed levity (“The Love of a Ginger Cat”) to this unprecedented time.
For this solo release, Jefferies played all of the instruments on the record, and he recorded and mastered it himself. During the lockdown, he meticulously restored a Marxophone–an older, long out-of-production American instrument, the sound of which resembles the timbre of a hammered dulcimer–to enhance the title track. His refurbished Marxophone, basically a fretless zither played via a system of metal hammers, is also featured on a few more songs on the album.
Like the first two This Kind of Punishment records, also made in semi-, self-inflicted isolation, ~Canary in a Coalmine~ definitely benefits from a nose-to-the-grindstone, let’s do it now or never mindset that somehow sets those records and this one apart from their contemporaries.
The cover art is also uniquely Jefferie’s vision. The front collage features an intact bird skeleton that had been poisoned which he found while working as a Compliance Officer. The back includes an image of the Wellington Museum’s display of NZ’s most famous racehorse, Phar Lap, also mysteriously poisoned (in Mexico during the Great Depression). Unlike Phar Lap, Jefferies has performed in New Zealand and continues to do so. If we’re fortunate, we hope to see him play live on this side of the world soon. In the meantime, enjoy the majestic balladry Jefferies offers on ~Canary in a Coalmine~, the sixth release from Ally Records.
Note: We will be distributing world wide with the exception of NZ. Graeme will be selling copies there directly. bivalence. It’s a tour-de-force that has remained in the dark too long.