MALCOLM BURN is one hell of a pool player.
He's no MINNESOTA FATS, mind you, but the gbuy knows his way around a felt-covered table. Chalk up the cue, rack up the balls, and lay your money down -- it's amazing how much lighter your wallet weighs after the encounter.
There's only one activity that exceeds Malcolm's capacity for leisure -- and that is his passion for music and music making.
Which is why Redemption , Malcolm Burn's new album on Anthem Records, is so unforgettable.
"I wanted to make a record that's passionate and full of integrity,' said Burn as he prepared to indulge in his favorite sport. His first shot breaks the triangular mass of coloured balls, scattering them in several directions and immediately dispensing four of them to their shallow graves.
"There's something to be said for intense music," he continues. "That's why I've spent the last year and a half developing a strong musical direction -- one that's both creatively and commercially viable."
As Malcolm steadies his aim for his next shot, a tape of Redemption -- produced by Burn with John Whynot and Ian Thomas -- rolls into the leadoff track, "Walk Don't Run", also the first single. As the shiny guitar riffs of the introduction dissolve into the low-key vocals, Burn sinks another couple of balls and pauses for thought.
"Making a record is almost like keeping a diary," he reasons. "It's very personal. The ten songs on the album describe a lot of the things I've gone through, and the sense of progression involved. I like being able to relate to people and to communicate with them. I think there's something on here for everyone."
Recorded at various studios in Canada and London, England, and remixed by internationally renowned Canadian producer Daniel Lanois (who received a Grammy and a Juno for his work on U2's The Joshua Tree ), Redemption is a tasteful collection of evocative moods and reactions, embracing several variations of pop music and connected by an ethereal atmosphere. If you notice an intimacy within the performance of the music itself, it's because Malcolm surrounded himself with several of his closest friends: Jocelyne Lanois (Martha And The Muffins, Crash Vegas), guitarist Bill Dillon (Robbie Robertson, Ian Thomas), bassist Andy Curran (Coney Hatch, Soho '69), drummer Glenn Milchem, John Whynot and Kevin Breit, as well as Burn himself on guitar and providing a fiery keyboard solo during the album's explosive finale "Ball Of Flame."
"I think it's important to get a sense of the singer and an identity through the music," Burn says, as he drops a striped ball into the side pocket with one fluid motion.
"Dan (Lanois) and I worked very hard strengthening the arrangements. We made it sound like me."
It must be pointed out that this isn't Burn's first recording venture. The 27-year-old native of Cornwall, Ontario was co-leader, along with Tony Lester, of the hip Toronto outfit Boys Brigade, owners of a critically acclaimed self-titled album five years ago.
Containing three percussionists, Boys Brigade had reasonable success on the charts with the song "Melody," and toured as opening act for bands as diverse as The Gang Of Four, The Romantics and The Stray Cats (including a memorable gig at Nashville's legendary Grand Ole Opry).
The band eventually began sessions for a second album, but alas, evolution being what it is...differences of opinion and creative pressures resulted in Boys Brigade's dissolution.
Following a cooling out period, Malcolm met Jocelyne Lanois, and the two began an artistic collaboration.
"Jocelyne gave me an immediate sense of direction," states Burn. "She's someone I can communicate with and is a good sounding board for my ideas. She was definitely the catalyst in this project.
Aside from co-writing two of the tune, Jocelyne also encouraged Malcolm to approach her brother Dan about remixing the album.
"He agreed immediately, but there was one stipulation," Malcolm says as he executes a behind-the-back wrist shot. "I had to go to England, since he was working there at the time. So I said, `Sure. Twist my arm.'"
Lanois, a great believer in utilizing as many different environments outside the confines of a recording studio as possible, inspired Malcolm to try a few unconventional experiments himself. Hence, "House Of Glass" was recorded in the bedroom of Dan's home in Hamilton, while "Josephine The Singer" was inscribed through a ghettoblaster.
There's also an interesting story behind the co-writing credit of Jimmy Padjunas on "Humans Can Talk" -- since Jimmy happens to be all of 9 years old.
"The song was originally called `Elephants Can Talk'," recalls Malcolm, who continues to peg off solid and striped billiard balls as he speaks.
"Jimmy was hanging around the house, and he said the title didn't make sense. `Why not call it `Humans Can Talk,' since everyone knows elephants don't.' Trust a child to state the obvious. So I gave him a songwriting credit."
There are many more interesting sounds on the album, from the volcanic buildup of "Gravity" to the dissonant outburst of "Crashing." Each song is a case study in experimentation, but the explorative arrangements aren't designed to alienate the listener, just enhance the composition.
"I'm very traditional in the sense that my real influences in writing music are the early Beatles, Bob Dylan and John Lennon," says Burn as he leans over the table for his final shot.
"But not traditional in the sense of the dynamics in which a song was written. Sometimes I use instrumentation to try to conjure up visual images. I like the feeling of having a signature, melodically as well as vocally."
With that sentence, Malcolm sends the 8-ball into visual obscurity with a gentle push of the arm, and the observer draws a single conclusion:
The confident authority of Malcolm Burn at snooker is also imprinted on his new album Redemption.
Upon listening to Redemption, you'll agree that Burn's success is in the pocket.
-- Nick Krewen
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