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Harrison Kennedy just wants a world with less hate

Harrison Kennedy’s Soulscape is the four-time Juno nominee’s fourth album with Electro-Fi, a small, smartly curated label based in Toronto.

Ivan Sorensen

3.5 out of 4 stars

Title
Soulscape
Artist
Harrison Kennedy
Label
Electro-Fi
Genre
Blues

On a recent episode of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher, the reasonable star of that show spoke out against people of wealth who don't give to charity lest it breed a culture of dependency. He also gave examples of the righteously religious condemning or preaching to – the same thing? – their waiters and waitresses in lieu of monetary tips. One server was outright told his homosexuality was the reason for his 0-per-cent gratuity. The Bible passages on sharing, Maher figured, were lost in translation.

On his believable new album of soul blues, Hamilton's Harrison Kennedy explores the same idea. On the church-organ sermon Lookin' for Happy, he despairs of a world plagued by hate and stinginess: "Rich folks give advice, but that ain't nothing new / putting money where their mouth is, last thing they do."

Maher calls his show-closing essay "new rules," and I believe Kennedy looks for fresh tenets as well.

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He's been around for a while, having joined the Detroit pop group Chairmen of the Board in 1968. The hit Gimme Me Just a Little More Time was theirs. It's a song about patience and hope: "We both want the sweetness in life, but these things don't come overnight."

Soulscape is the four-time Juno nominee's fourth album with Electro-Fi, a small, smartly curated label based in Toronto that also just put out the latest rugged opus from Detroit's Harmonica Shah, called Havin' Nothin' Don't Bother Me. Motown is no town for old men; Shah earthily sings Worried Life Blues, Death Bell Tollin' and Blind Man Crying in the Middle of Detroit.

The blues manner of Kennedy (whose nickname is Sweet Taste) is more acoustic-based and less primitive than Shah's, but just as compelling. On Voodoo and Cat and Mouse Thang, his voice is a meeting of Wilson Pickett and Samuel L. Jackson. On the bare, harrowing Back Alley Moan, the profound expressiveness of Odetta is channelled.

It's not all black-cat bones and moans. Sport Fishin' jumps like, well, like a fish, I suppose. On it, Kennedy advocates a catch-and-release philosophy, if you catch my meaning. On the moody banjo-plucked Nothin' to Lose, the angling metaphor is again dangled. This time, a catfish bites but then lets go. Kennedy is hungry, he decides to change his bait – he might as well, having nothing else to lose.

The album closes with Tragedy, a slow blues hymn about a heavy misfortune coming and a general lack of sympathy.

On his website, Kennedy solicits help for drug expenses. Having been recently diagnosed with prostate cancer, he mentions a treatment recognized by the Canadian government, yet not covered by Ontario's health-insurance plan. Kennedy looks for help, happiness and a just a little more time. Who would begrudge anyone those things?

THE WEEK IN MUSIC

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Top-selling albums in Canada for the week ending Nov. 10: The reports of Celine Dion's death were greatly exaggerated, as witnessed by her new Loved Me Back to Life disc topping the sales of even Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP 2 in Canada. Rounding out the Nielsen SoundScan Top 5 are Arcade Fire's Reflektor, Avril Lavigne's self-titled fifth album and Katy Perry's Prism.

Top single: Stop us if you've heard this one before, but Lorde's Royals tops the Billboard Hot 100. The smash single from the 17-year-old Aussie is the most popular song for a seventh consecutive week.

Also released this week: Andrew Bird's I Want to See Pulaski at Night, The Beatles' The Beatles On Air – Live at the BBC Vol. 02, Hilary Hahn's In 27 Pieces, Lady Gaga's Artpop, Miles Davis's The Original Mono Recordings and the soundtrack to Inside Llewyn Davis.

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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