New C.R. Avery album breathes new life into musical story-telling traditions
All the Angels Didn’t Scare Me features flawlessly detailed portraits of the anti-heroes of everyday life.
Album release date: September 30, 2016
Sept. 29 – Harbour House Hotel, Salt Spring Island, BC
Sept . 30 – Victoria Event Centre, Victoria, BC
Oct. 1 – Cobalt, Vancouver, BC
Oct. 5 – TBC, Vernon, BC
Oct. 6 – Dream Café, Penticton, BC
Oct. 7 – Spirit Bar, Nelson, BC
Oct. 8 – Ironwood Stage, Calgary, AB
Oct. 9 – Stagger Studio, Lethbridge, AB
Oct. 12 – The Almanac, Edmonton, AB
Oct . 13 – TBC, Moose Jaw, SK
Oct. 14 – Vangelis, Saskatoon, SK
Oct. 15 – Creative City Centre, Regina, SK
From Bobby Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe” and John Prine’s “Sam Stone” to Springsteen’s “Highway Patrol Man” and KRS ONE’s “Love’s Gonna Getcha,” the great songs of our time exemplify the number one rule of writing: show don’t tell. Don’t just preach and point fingers; Paint people as they really are, and folks will relate to the story more than if they feel they’re being yelled at or subjected to a sermon.
It’s those tales and ballads told through music that have sustained us through the passage of time and the waxing and waning of Top 40 trends – music that tells the legends that were already there before the song-writer showed up to pen them down.
One artist who takes that story-telling tradition to heart on every record and every stage is C. R. Avery.
His new album, All the Angels Didn’t Scare Me, unfolds like an homage to the unsung heroines of the outskirts of contemporary society: the everyday nine-to-fivers, living and doing what they have to do to keep going – whether it’s fleeing their old neighbourhoods due to gentrification, or putting on the steel-toed boots in the early morning when it seems the rest of the world is still sleeping.
It’s part oral history and part social commentary without any propaganda to weigh the plot down – all couched in literature for the forgotten faces of a reality TV picture frame.
The East Van poet meets celebrated West Side producer Ben Mink (KD Lang, Feist’s “1234”) on the opening track, “Insufficient Funds of Love.” The painstakingly detailed collection of three vignettes features the individual members of a broken family living in physical and emotional limbo. Mink creates a cinematic score for C.R.’s sombre theatre of the mind, employing ominous bass and strings to give the verses an almost murder-ballad-like quality – before the song explodes into walls of fuzzy guitars and choruses capped with a single repeating line: “she took out 40 cents from her bank account ‘cuz that was all she had.” It alludes to the song’s inspiration: a conversation C. R. had with a bank teller who said, “a man was in here yesterday and took out 40 cents! That’s all that was left in his account.”
“Troubled Youth,” also produced by Mink, is a bombastic account of all of our adult lives, doomed to bad friendships, broken relationships and aimless nights of mingling in bars because our troubled past stays one step ahead of us, keeping us from escaping the present day unscarred. Mink again builds a massive wall of sound around the track, employing jangly electric guitar, furious piano, organ, strings, vocal distortion, and a chorus of backing vocalists that collectively seem to mimic the chaos of the protagonist’s mind.
The Avery-Mink collaboration recalls the time when David Bowie brought his elaborate eye for production to the tough street poetry of Lou Reed, helping Lou’s words from the underbelly reach middle class suburbia. (How many times have you heard “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” in a grocery store?)
For the rest of the album, C.R. teamed up with newly Nashville-based producer Steve Dawson, eager to take advantage of Dawson’s experience with the southern story-song traditions of blues and country.
The endlessly-versatile Dawson matches the tenor set by Mink on tracks such as “Promiscuous Woman,” an anti-slut-shaming anthem that unfolds like a Rolling Stones cover of an Ani DiFranco tune.
“Hollywood Movie Blues” is a smack-down of the laziness of tinsel town script-writers, delivered through a series of archetypal story-lines from Hollywood films: white guy with mullet but skilled as Bruce Lee picks a fight with a huge gang of bikers and wins; elderly bald guy overcomes outrageous hardship to triumph in a major sporting competition of 20-year-olds; and rich, good-looking city guy falls in love with simple country girl and leaves it all behind to marry her and become a farmer. It’s story-telling in the barn-burner, country-fried tradition.
“Either the Wallpaper Goes or I Do” is the oral history of every vibrant impoverished community populated by working class immigrants and transformed into bohemia by artists – until it’s so hip and popular, the condos come. (A trendy clothing store has replaced the seedy CBGB’s in New York’s lower east side.) It’s a window onto a moment where artists are gathering in a low rent neighborhood making magic. Then it’s gone. That’s why Hemingway called it a moveable feast.
About C.R. Avery
In many ways, All the Angels Didn’t Scare Me marks C.R. Avery’s return to his roots – the storytelling that shaped him as a kid.
Raised in small-town Ontario and unable to focus on books as a child, C.R. was drawn to all things aural and lyrical – stand-up comedy, country ballads, sexual adventures and risqué episodes retold in hip hop lyrics.
“I was a kid who wanted to change his name to M.C. Howlin’ Wolf. I wanted to be D.J. Muddy Waters,” he tells the audience in an excerpt from a live show that opens “Troubled Youth.”
Over the years, he’s released 17 albums, from swamp city blues to spoken word performed with the Prague Symphony Orchestra, all infused with an outlaw outlook and attitude and a rock n’ roll middle finger ethos. And when it came time to create this record, he was feeling especially fatigued of the current musical trend toward inward, subconscious, “stream of consciousness” whisper-singing that sounds like an Instagram photo of wind chimes butterfly kissing a glockenspiel instead of a gutter wail of an unsung story that needs to be told, not left for dead.
All the Angels Didn’t Scare Me features finely painted portraits of people surviving and sometimes thriving in the brokenness of urban and rural life.
Chuck D said “hip-hop is black people’s CNN.” When no one is telling or printing the stories of the people getting up each day to go to work or dealing with a death of a parent, a lover lying, a car breaking down, a cop committing sexual assault while giving a ticket, burnt fuckin’ toast, rug burn, or the simple joy of fireworks from the fourth floor roof top, then those stories start to sneak into songs. They were there waiting and can now make us dance and howl in Aisle Three as we buy Tampax, toothpaste and cereal.
The angels shouldn’t scare you. Here are the stories to prove it.