CD Reviews


Gregg Lawless, Something Beautiful

A self-made success on the Canadian folk scene, Gregg Lawless is a very and variously talented fellow. He ranges from harmony-laden, Beatlesque pop ("Taxi Driver") to sassy, sexy blues ("Just Talk To Me," "Why Don't You Love Me, Baby?") to rootsy folk-pop ("The Last Days of Summer"). His sonic flourishes -- a trombone here, a dobro or 12-string electric there -- are often as distinctive as his lyrical conceits (e.g., "For a taxi driver, very little change brings very little change"). And there's a charming, casual feel to the album, which is sprinkled with little musical excerpts and spoken asides. The title track, which fully lives up to its name, is worth the price of admission alone, and should be required listening in anger-management classes worldwide.


Gregg Lawless finds a jaunty pop edge
By GREG QUILL, Entertainment Columnist

Launches album at Hugh's Room
New songs meant to be heard as a set

Sometime late in 1994, after half a decade playing original songs in bars in and around Toronto with his band Bloorstation, Gregg Lawless had what he calls an epiphany.

"We'd finally made a mark," he says of the group he fronted with guitarist Steve Briggs, who went on to co-found Toronto's rootsy western swing band The Bebop Cowboys. "There was a lineup down the block on this particular night, and the band was in peak form.

"And at the end of the last set, this guy walks up from the audience and says, 'Man, you guys rock!'"

Most musicians would be warmed by such a compliment, but rocking out had never been on Lawless's agenda. Somehow his complex, thoughtful songs had been lost in the pursuit of street-level credibility, and all that remained of them was the crashing power of big chords and hard grooves.

"It suddenly occurred to me that no one was listening to the songs, just the noise we were making. There was no appreciation of the craft in the songs. I was on the wrong trail. This was not what I wanted to do."

Disillusioned and not a little disoriented, Lawless took a year off before he resumed writing and performing, "not for money or glory ... I just wanted to play in places where people would listen, places like C'est What? and The Free Times Café."

It was the beginning of a new career for Lawless, who's celebrating the release on Saturday night at Hugh's Room of his third solo CD, Something Beautiful. Lawless will be performing with Briggs, bassist John Dymond, keyboardist Steve Klodt and drummer Gary Craig.

More confident and less self-conscious than its 2001 predecessor, Wicked Little Buzz, the new album — in the liner notes Lawless takes pains to explain that the collection is an album in the true sense, a series of songs that are designed to be listened to in one sitting and in a defined sequence — defies categorization, and though its jaunty pop edges, arranged, melodic guitar parts and Beatlesesque vocal treatments jut defiantly outside official folk parameters, it has already become a favourite on Canadian folk radio programs and on CBC playlists.

"I'm always amazed that artists who sustain themselves as independents, outside the structure of the record business, are so eager to tell you what roots music should sound like," says the 38-year-old songwriter and father of two young boys.

"It's totally the wrong way to think. Independence gives you a licence to do what you've always wanted to do, to find your own way of translating what you're feeling into song without having to worry about formats and genres.

"I'll listen to anything that's honest and has meaning — Irish folk, heavy metal, classical music.

"One of my uncles was a chief examiner at the Royal Conservatory Of Music; another was a self-taught rocker devoted to guys like Elvis and Gene Pitney. I played pop-jazz fusion in high school ...

"I'm a believer in that old Duke Ellington axiom: There are only two kinds of music — good and bad. Besides, I've never wanted to make a record that sounds as if it's of its time, of an era. I'm going for timeless.

"The downside is that it's a long, slow build. There's no big flash of success in the independent music business, but you can sustain a decent creative life."

No stranger to the folk world, Lawless has sold out Hugh's Room on two previous occasions, and books his own 10-city concert tour through southern Ontario every second year, alternating with similar soft-seat concert dates in Saskatchewan and Alberta, where he has developed a solid following. For the next few months around Ontario (see for details) he's heading up a largely impromptu acoustic revue, "a rambling singalong" entitled Songs In The Key Of Canada featuring former bandmate Briggs on mandolin, guitar and vocals, bassist/singer Suzie Vinnick, and Klodt, who engineered and played on Something Beautiful, on accordion, piano and vocals, performing Canadian folk and pop favourites by Joni Mitchell, The Band, Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, Paul Anka, Ian and Sylvia, Gene MacLellan, Five Man Electrical Band, The Guess Who, David Clayton-Thomas, Steppenwolf, Leonard Cohen, and Bachman-Turner Overdrive, among others.

Lawless doesn't lose money, and it's artistically satisfying to do things his own way, he says, but admits he'd be broke if it wasn't for the songwriting workshops he operates in Toronto-area schools.

"I do about 50 a year, incorporating 5th and 6th Grade music lessons into practical songwriting activity. I do individual mailings to schools, and work with those that respond. The kids may be too young to know their way around music, which is why I'm there to help, but they're certainly old enough to have something to say. Each workshop ends with a finished song, which we record on tape or video, and the program has become very popular.

"It keeps me in the city, so I can stay close to my boys, and off the road for most of the year."


New and Notable Releases

Gregg Lawless - Something Beautiful

Something Beautiful is the sound of someone comfortable in his own skin. Much too mature for angst-ridden allegory, Gregg Lawless has produced a collection of love songs that show him wanting not much more than a big hug. Mixing pop, country, folk and rock into tight, catchy arrangements is something he does with confident ease. Calling little attention to itself, the music floats behind the vocals, allowing them to dominate so the stories can take centre stage. Their simple message is a refreshing reminder not to take life too seriously.


Review of Something Beautiful CD

Gregg Lawless' new CD Something Beautiful is a delightful collection of folk-rock-pop music.

From the beginning to the end, the CD delighted me.

The CD artwork is casual but eyecatching. The live feel of the music puts you right there with the band. A happy-go-lucky instrumental, "Scruff and Selly's Tune" is his opening cut. Perhaps an unusual way to begin a singer/songwriter CD, but it sounds great, highlighting the many musical talents in Gregg's band.

There are 21 cuts total on Something Beautiful, each one different and all highlighting Gregg's songwriting talents.

Each song tells a story, and in the telling, Gregg imparts his own special charm and style. He has been favourably compared with Ron Sexmith; I also heard shades of J.J. Cale, Beatles, Barenaked Ladies and Chris Smithers.

It's hard to pin Gregg into a genre — the man is always giving one a surprise, but the surprise is always pleasant ... Something Beautiful is a kaleidoscope of delightful sounds, through which Gregg leads you, blending a wide variety of styles but makes his own — Lawlessness.


Window of Opportunity
Laurie-Ann and Tony Copple, co-hosts

This cd stopped me in my tracks for sheer musical enjoyment. Gregg's a consummate musician who invites us into the life of his band in Something Beautiful. This album has a spontaneous and fun sense that encourages you to listen again and again ... the whole disk is a story, with humour and announcements ... and "Scruff and Selly" is priceless! Let's listen again!