Music Interview: Midwinter minstrels

By Paul Jarvey

“I’ve never played the drums or bass before,” admits musician Kate Maki, laughing. “I can’t believe how much we’ve learned from each other. This [experience] has really improved all of our performances.”

Experienced or not, though, Canadian winters are as notorious as Siberia’s and few musicians dare to tour through their fury. Braving forty below temperatures, freak snowstorms and potentially low turnouts that have cursed winter tours in the past, A Midwinter Night’s Dream is thawing crowds across the nation with something new from five accomplished Canadian musicians.

Stepping away from work as solo artists, they have come together to form a band around shared musical interests and, from the sound of it, some exceptionally mischievous good times. The quintet, consisting of Ruth Minnikin, Ryan Bishops, Nathan Lawr, Dale Murray and Kate Maki, each bring a little of their own unique style to the performance. It’s not surprising the show boasts a wide variety of tastes and influences, compared to everything from The Beatles to The Bryds.

The quintet first joined forces while working with Kate Maki on her unfettered and elegant the Sun Will Find Us, a release perfectly balancing a slightly rough-edged, dusty tone with the shine and clarity of Kate’s voice. She hints at time spent rehearsing in the woods North of Sudbury where the “experiment” was born. “We all get along very well and the music is awesome, very tight right from the beginning. Working together with these guys has been great. We’ve got everything from country groove to rock, a little pop and definitely some soul.”

The other four musicians have also recently released solo albums. Nathan Lawr’s recent The Heart Beats a Waltz is rapidly earning a well-earned place in the hearts of critics across the country, its country and ’60s pop infusion catching hearts and well-deserved radio play. Ruth Minnikin, reminiscent of a slightly darker, rougher Joni Mitchell, recently created Marooned and Blue, a heartfelt and catchy exploration of roots and country released at the end of her tour with the Heavy Hitters. Ryan Bishops’ Silver Spooned and Hammered is a touching and playful solo debut resonant with the tradition of Canadian country and roots music. Dale Murray’s Brighter Lives, Darker Side is his first solo release, a rich ’60s pop-esque infusion of prairie rock and authentic roots.

“We’d spent enough time together that we already knew a lot of each other’s songs,” says Kate. “Touring together as a band was a natural next step. Before we left on this tour, we recorded a few tracks and put together an album for the tour. It was unbelievable. Some of tracks on the CD are barely rehearsed and sound great. They’re selling like hot cakes.”

With dedicated and danceable, but undeniably authentic sound, A Midwinter Night’s Dream will undoubtedly warm some toes. This quintet is a long way from Shakespearean verse, but they’re definitely shakin’.