Saturday, February 6, 2016

Sussex – Parade Day

Parade Day
Lucky Bear Records

I’ve known Montreal-based singer-songwriter Rob Lutes a long time and have enjoyed watching (and listening) to him develop as a singer, songwriter, guitarist and performer. He knows well how to combine his gritty voice and fluid, blues-based guitar playing into something very compelling. With Sussex, Rob has taken his music to a new level.

Sussex is a collaboration of Rob, who is rooted in folk and blues, and vibraphonist Michael Emenau, whose roots are in classical music and jazz. Rob and Michael played together 25 or so years ago as high school students in New Brunswick and began collaborating again after Michael moved to Montreal in 2011.

Parade Day, the first Sussex album, includes five songs written or co-written by Rob, one by Michael, and five of their songwriting collaborations. They also include a charming cover of Randy Newman’s “Dayton, Ohio – 1903.”

Rob plays acoustic guitar and fronts the band as lead singer while Michael is heard throughout on vibes and occasionally on percussion and piano. And they get some great backup from the likes of guitarist Ben Charest (best known for his infectious film score for Les Triplettes de Bellville); trumpet and flugelhorn player Ivanhoe Jolicoeur; upright bassist Sage Reynolds; and violinist Josh Zubot.

The album opens strongly with “Hollow Log,” a song about maintaining a sense of balance in the face of life’s problems. The vibes weaving in and around the vocal lines give the song an irresistible jazzy-rootsy flavor.

The jazz-meets-roots fusion really comes alive on such numbers as “Truth and Lies,” with some nimble, Reinhardt-like guitar lines by Ben; “Superman’s Escape,” a bouncy song with the vibes, guitars, violin, bass and horn all contributing to the toe-tapping groove; and “Sparkle Blues,” a slow, jazz ballad.

I also really enjoyed Sussex’s take on “Dayton, Ohio – 1903,” a gentle period piece from Randy Newman’s classic 1972 album Sail Away (which was also memorably covered on Priscilla Herdman’s Forgotten Dreams – a 1980 album I had a little something to do with).

Sussex has already launched Parade Day in Quebec City and Montreal. Several more launch concerts are coming up including a show on March 25 here in Ottawa at Irene’s.

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--Mike Regenstreif

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