‘Hi, you’re through to the Corey hotline: just $4.95 a minute. Here are some words that rhyme with Corey: glory, story, allegory, Montesori…’ If Lisa Simpson could hear this new album from Mr. Isenor, she’d fall in love with Corey all over again and be in deep trouble with Marge over a new phone bill she’d dialled up to the wilds of Nova Scotia. The delicate eco-environment, his beloved Nova Scotian countryside and his fine arts background permeate every glorious note of Corey Isenor’s music.
As well as a brilliant musician, he is also a gifted photographer and painter. Perhaps it’s this unique skill-set that helps him create vivid pictures of his song’s protagonists on ‘A Painted Portrait (of the Classic Ruse)’. Is this because of nature or nurture? ‘We are forces of our nature/bound by nomenclature/Are you the devil or my saviour?’ Isenor opines philosophically in the lush, opener: ‘Forces of Our Nature’.
Co-produced by the man Isenor rightly calls ‘The Wizard’ – Diego Medina, Isenor’s music reflects his geographical position – Halifax, Nova Scotia. It is folk-roots with some lovely pedal steel, played exquisitely by Andrew Sneddon, especially on one of the album’s stand-out tracks, ‘The Navy Blues’.
Here, Isenor takes his palette knife and adds glistening, tactile, melodious mountains of moist oil paint, impasto-style to his striking canvas:
‘I’ve got the navy blues / They’ve been hanging round with those darker hues / Blending in the shadows of the pine trees and the meadow on a Harvest moon /
I’ve got the Navy Blues / Shades of sorrow within my shoes /
And the skies are always beaming and the colours I am dreaming of changing to: / I need a fire red, gold and yellow and emerald green,
To warm my bed, bring back a little colour to this 2-Tone scene.’
Yep, it must get mighty chilly in Nova Scotia in the wintertime. A climate that creates a freeze that needs more than a hot water bottle or some thermals to restore the circulation. Isenor is talking about how he needs some skin on skin to restore the colour to his cheeks and his jaded palette.
‘Ferry Tale’ takes the listener on a hastened journey by car to catch a ferry and subsequent pleasant sea voyage, a journey whose urgency is perpetuated by a jaunty rhythm and pleasing strings, supplied by Donald MacLennan.
Isenor’s love of nature is paramount; his naturalistic yen accentuated by several field recordings of local wildlife like the ubiquitous and patriotic, Canada Geese on ‘Diamonds on the Moon’. They are given a slight echo effect which blends beautifully with a sensuous flute and Sneddon’s silk-fingered steel to create an expansive, squawking landscape that is so atmospheric.
There’s an utterly gorgeous and irresistible rhythmic string part on ‘Forms of my Desire’ that really makes it swing. Would you care to join me for this dance?
The first of two instrumentals, ‘Burning the Hickory’ sees Isenor step up and lay claim to John Fahey’s influence on his guitar. You can really feel the Atlantic Seaboard with this one, blowing the cobwebs out of one’s brain and through your hair and Thinsulate woolly cap.
Nova Scotia’s Celtic roots come through loud and clear on ‘From Towers to Windmills’. Isenor acknowledges in song and soundscape form, the immigrant roots of Scotish and Irish men and women who helped to establish their communities in Nova Scotia; building homes, planting crops, laying seed for future generations. This segues into ‘The Dark Horse’ courtesy of some croaking Spring Peeper frogs who Isenor recorded himself out in the wilds, and whom, sound recordist, Chris Watson himself, would be proud of. It’s remarkable for some gorgeous Dobro slide guitar and harmonica. Field recording meets musical palette to create: a masterpiece. Who will start the bidding?
Isenor is part of a thriving artist’s community. His Mum, Tracey Isenor painted the back cover of his CD. The apple has fallen near the tree, eh, Mom? The beautiful front cover was painted by an artist friend of his, called Pomona Shea and the inner sleeve, hopefully reproduced here (Thanks, Mark!) is the work of fellow Nova Scotian, Anna Bald, who was once Isenor’s room-mate. As Patti Smith used to sing: ‘Horses, horses, horses / coming in from all directions.’
If you adore Daniel Romano, or are keen on Cale Tyson, Corey Isenor is going to do it for you, baby. That’s a promise. And if you’re equally fond of The Bills (one of Canada’s other proud exports) you’re going to love this album as much as Lisa loves Corey.
What’s Lisa listening to as we say goodbye? Yep, she’s on the phone again: it’s Corey, still only $4.95 a minute… ‘Let’s see what’s been in the newspaper today…Canada stalls on Trade pact…’