Harvest Moon: jazz versions of iconic Canadian singer/songwriter classics

Having grown up in Sudbury in Northern Ontario I have always related to the first part of the song Helpless as Neil Young writes about a town in North Ontario. Further study on the background of the song makes me understand why he didn’t say Northern Ontario instead – Omemee isn’t that far north, after all. There is something in the lyric that also reflects the health struggles he faced there after contracting polio which is mirrored in my own experience of the north, particularly my mother’s bad luck in being tossed into a sanatorium when she contracted tuberculosis, despite treatment being available in the south. Thankfully she got there eventually. But overall, while it was clear that there was much beauty in nature, there was danger up north that made me feel helpless indeed, hence the bittersweet nostalgia.

In our usual jazz fashion this was done in one take with just a few vocal overdubs added later on. I might have misunderstood the final verse as I opted for treating it like the adlibs of Joni Mitchell from the Last Waltz, one of my favourite concert films. But in any case, we strive for freshness and raw emotion so I’ve left it that way. It isn’t a slick production. We were stomping through snow to get to our backyard shed studio where everything was by necessity live off of the floor.

When I say we I refer to my family ensemble, Michel on drums, Reg on guitar and JJ and Theo (van garden and beamer!) providing backing vocals more or less willingly. We’re all busy with our distinct musical genres which encompass jazz, free jazz, experimental composition, trap and abstract hip-hop, to name a few. Adding in folk is a tribute to some of the best known musicians from this country we live in and hopefully we do it some justice.

We live under the murals featuring Leonard Cohen here on the Plateau in Montreal and I’ve walked past his old home when I’m out running errands for decades. That said, I didn’t delve into his music until this project. To be perfectly honest that had something to do with our old friend, bassist Freddie McHugh, who used to get upset whenever he heard Cohen on the radio (which was often) and then he’d tell us that Cohen was that annoying guy who was always asking to sit in during Freddie’s jazz gigs back in the day in Montreal. Honestly, considering this story now makes me curious about what those sessions sounded like!

Regarding Famous Blue Raincoat, the lyrics were a bit of a challenge for me. That business about going clear is suspect and I decided not to gloss over it. And although there is a gender appropriate version I find the story in the letter doesn’t make sense with that version so I opted to stick with the original text. It was easier to find the expression that way.

The rest of the collection of Canadian singer/songwriter classics is now streaming and the title of the album is Harvest Moon. It includes some songs by The Band, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Cockburn and Neil Young’s Harvest Moon. May it inspire you to check out our recording inspired by forests in Quebec, Genius Loci North.