By Donald Teplyske
One of my favourite and most memorable live performances was a Edmonton Folk Music Festival showcase featuring the SteelDrivers and Hanggai interacting to create a bluegrass-Mongolian throat-singing amalgam that was more than brilliant.
I mention that 2009 event because up to the moment I started listening to Different Voices, it may have been the last time I was so impressed by disparate musicians working together in a manner that isn’t just surprising, but also invigorating and enjoyable.
Blues harmonica fronting a classical music string quartet with jazz shadings? What could possibly go wrong? Turns out across this hour long set, nothing.
Corky Siegel has been at this for quite some time, having established a line of recordings that mix the blues and chamber music; I’ve never heard them, but lack of familiarity doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm for his brand of music.
The opening track, “Missing Persons Blues- Op. 26” is a spirited, dark exploration of atmospheric notes and instrumental brilliance. Featuring the legendary Ernie Watts on saxophone, this expansive interplay of borderless genres sets the tempo for a recording that unveils surprises song after song. Beautiful.
Another highlight is Marcy Levy’s (Shakespears Sister, Marcella Detroit) sultry interpretation of her song “Lay Down Sally,” a ’70s hit for Eric Clapton. Tabla from Sandeep Das underscores the violin-rich majesty of “Time Will Tell Overture- Op. 25.”
Also featured on select tracks are vocalists Matthew Santos, Sam Lay, and Chicago’s Sons of the Never Wrong. One of the more intriguing pieces is “Galloping Horses,” a brief, meditative, and yet engaging exploration of far eastern sounds mixed with beat box. While Siegel is present on each track and is the album’s featured core, he doesn’t overly dominate the selections; rather, like any bandleader worthy of the name, he complements the proceedings to make the whole greater than himself.
Near the end of the album, on the two-part “Counter Intuitive- Op. 24” Siegel does indulge himself a might, to no detriment of our enjoyment. Again playing off the ever-present Classical String Quartet, Siegel takes the listener to places one may not have realized were imaginable let alone possible.
Certainly not our typical roots and Americana offering, “Different Voices” allows one to experience music without pre-existing limitations. It holds up to repeated listening, and makes one curious to discover the legacy of Corky Siegel. Start exploring, y’all!