September 2007

Claire Jenkins Avec Band Crow’s Nest / Nie de Pie CD release
September 10, 2007 Supermarket Toronto
by Andy Frank with photos by Mike Colyer

Maybe it’s the quiver. The gentle, unteachable, untameable quiver in Claire Jenkins’ splendid voice, a vibrato that harkens associations with Natalie Merchant and Edith Piaf.

Or maybe it’s the eyes. In the small jam-packed back room of the Supermarket in Kensington, Jenkins introduces her visage through a round hole (created to resemble a ship’s porthole) cut out from a loosely strung pair of white sheets that act as the tiny stage’s curtain. As she sings the evening’s opening number, her eyes playfully dance back and forth along perfect, smiling cheekbones. Long before the curtains are ripped down to reveal the full band, Jenkins has fully disarmed the audience.

Or maybe it’s the delightful low-budget cabaret. Jenkins’ theatre background is amply evident throughout the concert. Props such as homemade-paper-sailor’s-hats, a paper telescope, a miniature ship, its passengers, boxing gloves, flaming stick people, every song is presented with a loving, personal, seasoned theatrical touch.

Or maybe it’s the seamless bilingualism, which Jenkins comes about as honestly as one possibly can — Jenkins is the daughter of an Anglophone father, Francophone mother, and was raised in Montréal. When she breaks into French, as she does three or four times on this night, the room’s ambiance appears to adjust accordingly. This ain’t no Queen Street kitch.

Or maybe it’s the band. And what a band. Joe Phillips on double bass, Tom Howell on violin and piano, Brad Hart on percussion, Sean Cotton on guitar, and the accomplished producer of the new CD, Don Kerr, on cello. This is the big leagues of the Toronto indy world, players that can mount a stage with anyone, anywhere. Perhaps the most crucial shipmate, however, is the remarkable Treasa Levasseur, who plays an accordion that transports the listener right into a musical bistro where French must be sung, she also plays a huge variety of other instruments and lends an equally formidable bilingual voice to support Jenkins.

Or maybe it’s the CD, Crow’s Nest / Nie de Pie. Recorded with the same band “live off the floor” in sequence, in one day (Dec 19, 2006), with over a dozen instruments, tricky bilingual harmony vocals, no overdubs, and only a touch of post-recording effects. How well must one know the material going into the session? How skilled, confident, and secure must the players be, in themselves, and in each other? Well when this kind of collaboration works, it’s magic, and as it says on the CD sleeve, File Under Low Budget Epic.

Half-way through the show, Claire Jenkins christens her miniature boat with a half-bottle of bubbly, but she’s no dummy — she doesn’t actually break the bottle. Instead, she takes a big swig, and we all laugh with her as it dribbles out of her nose.

Claire Jenkins

Claire Jenkins


A well deserved toast and a successful launch indeed.

> www.clairejenkins.com <
We welcome your comments and feedback
Andy Frank
• • • • • •
Mike Colyer
• •
The Live Music Report

Andy Frank is the host and senior producer of Take 5 on CIUT 89.5 FM.
In his spare time, he produces It’s Alive! On Tuesday nights at the same station, 9:00 pm

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