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Michael Dalton's debut solo album entitled Thirteen

Heartstrings, Harmonicas & Kismet...

IMAGE SOURCE: michaeldaltonmusic


Michael Dalton hails from the East Coast, a place rich in musical heritage, born and raised in Newfoundland, he now lives in Nova Scotia. Whilst I admit to not being too familiar with the Cape Breton Island music scene, nor the Maritime folk traditions, I am aware of the Celtic musical heritage of the reel, Scottish style fiddle playing, and Irish lyrical ballads. Gaelic traditions interwoven with Southern gospel music of freed slaves who came to Canada through the Underground Railroad with one arrival point being Halifax, these diverse cultures have influenced many generations of musicians across Canada. To be sure, let's go right to the source, so, I asked Michael: Our surrounding shape us. How did being raised in Newfoundland shape you as a singer/songwriter?

Michael replies: "I never fully realized how much growing up in Newfoundland affected my song writing until someone mentioned how I and other islanders constantly write about the water. It's still hard to imagine the island's massive influence as this is the only way I've ever written songs; I have nothing to compare it to. I would have to guess that its strongest influence is lyrical and thematic as the music I listened to growing up was as much country, rock and grunge as it was traditional."

"Growing up in a small town we had to make our own fun. Most of the time this involved music. After school and on weekends it was road hockey, building a cabin in the woods or listening to and playing music."

IMAGE: 'Atlantic Blue' by Michael Dalton

I asked Michael: Was there an epiphany, a specific moment when you knew you had to perform music as your creative calling, or was it just naturally an extension of your daily life? Michael replies: His epiphany came at an early age, "I had a dream when I was six, that I sat down at a piano. It was the first time I had ever been here but I knew exactly what to do. My finger only touched one key, but depending on how I thought about it, that one key would make any and every pitch. I woke early that day and began begging my parents for piano lessons." A pretty magical premonition and auditory augary of a lifetime destined to be filled with music.

Michael has been playing music "for as long as he can remember" and was a member of other bands, including the Transatlantic Zodiac Ensemble, and this holiday season he is performing with The Modern Grass, a local bluegrass-swing shows Swingin' Around the Christmas Tree. Music is like breathing, and ass essential for the heart and soul.

Michael, The Artist...

Isn't it great when something amazing appears, seemingly out of nowhere, but you feel like you have unearthed it yourself, finding the pearl in the oyster, or grasping onto a chunk of opal in the desert, after falling down the sinkhole. Michael's music is such a treasure, whose music is the balm to soothe the tortured old soul and wounded heart in all of us. Michael Dalton's uncompromising vision and gift for sonic fusion and lyrical alchemy is sure to please any audience, no matter what your particular tastes are, good songwriting, poetic storytelling, and skillful musicianship are universal.

His intricate guitar work is dazzling at times, and always hits the right chord with the heartstrings drawing upon many potent, universal emotions. Michael writes and performs his own songs, plays the harmonica and guitar, with strumming which ranges from a whisper, a hum, an incantation, to a rebellious roar. His exotic fusion can be found in songs like Rust, there are wafts of Turkish-inspired interludes, and occasional blues riffs, and infusions of drums and electric guitar for a full-on folk-rock feel.

Michael is a new embodiment of the archtypal bard, a troubadour whose music is complex though it seems effortless, with mischievous sprinklings and dark inklings of the transcendental, splendiferous, and the resplendent, all of this the signature of an artist ever evolving to keep us guessing...and always wanting more. I confess, rarely am I affected by someone's music, but once Michael started playing it was like I was hit by an invisible ripple, I was hooked from that moment onward.

The Album

On October 17th, Michael Dalton releases his debut solo effort entitled Thirteen, and begins his promotional tour in November. His starting point for the album is 11 poems which he has written over the years. In his own words, he describes Thirteen as "mostly folk tunes with a few oddities in there that speak on love, death, war, confusion, stagnation and elation."

The overall vibe of the album is familiar yet fresh, surprising yet sublime, while melancholy and meditative, with a soft-spoken strength his profound songs linger in your heart and mind long after the record stops. Thirteen is a solid album. Believe me when I tell you that I tried for a full week to find something critical to say, or to find something that is lacking, but could not, it is perfect the way it is. That is pure truth, no bullshit!!

Michael Dalton's debut album will take you on a journey of sight and sound, his lyrics create vivid mindscapes, with theatrical resonance. With a total of 13 songs, although two of those are, what I like to call sonic tableaus, which I love, are more than transitions, they are in-between-creatures charming unto themselves. The first meditative pause Port Harmon evokes the tranquil lull of the Newfoundland seaport waves. In stark, but charming contrast, Cyanosis peppers with macabre theatrics of Grand Guignol proportions, like a penny dreadful, lost in the haze of the opium den, or the grotesque fascination of a dime museum. Cyanosis is a surreal, psychedelic momento mori with crashing cymbals and determined, hypnotic piano. I can just see Luis Buñuel slicing an eyeball, and Salvador Dali lurking in the shadows curling his moustache...

The sonic framing of the album, opening it with traditional country, or bluegrass feel of The Omen and closing it with the folk rock song Seeds, with drums and electric guitar blends the pride and sentiment of the past, with freshness of dewy green grass and the promise of future things that will bloom and evolve. It is difficult, if not impossible, to pick just one favorite song, there are many incredible songs that stay with you long after the music stops. I really enjoyed Rust, Hitchhiker Blues, One Way To Go, Dragon's Den, Two of Three, and I love the visuals created by all of the lyrics.

The supporting tour for Thirteen has taken Michael across parts of Eastern Canada to select venues, beginning at The Nook in Halifax and has taken him to Maritime venues in St. John's, Corner Brook, The Blue Room in Fredericton, and The Cavern in Toronto, The Garnet in Peterborough, Le Cagibi Cafe in Montreal, and the Record Centre in Ottawa for the last part of his tour, at the Boubon Quarter in Saint John, New Brunswick with guest David Mudge. The grand finale December 6th at The Company House in Halifax with Jerry Stamp.

During the Toronto leg of his tour, a happy accident brough his sweetly profound lyrics and smooth voice to my ears as Michael Dalton was added to our taping of GTA Rocks, purely kismet. The episode highlighting Michael Dalton will include one song and a brief interview, it will air on Rogers Cable television.

Off to a well-received start, Thirteen is already making an impact, bringing praise and recognition for the strength of Michael's songwriting ability and musical mastery. Michael's song Rust has made it on the Scene Magazine's "Prime Cuts" list, with an interview on a live podcast for PTBO Canada, and Michael's live performance at Chery Cola’s has been recorded for part of a local Toronto cable show called GTA Rocks.

Sounds like...

Not since I first heard Martyn Bennett's album Bothy Culture, have I been pleasantly surprised, moved, and inspired by a truly great artist.

Reminiscent of the folk bards and balladeers Stan Rogers with classics like with folk-rock storytelling genius of Gordon Lightfoot, Cat Stevens, James Taylor, and Don McLean. With dashes of blues soufulness like Leadbelly, Buddy Cage, add a dash of the rebelliousness of Bob Dylan, and Neil Young. Add the ambience of Brian Eno, the sweet melancholy of Daniel Lanois or Jeff Buckley, and pinch of raw poetics of Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen. And, some of the grit of Nick Cave and Morrissey all combines to make quite a worldly musical elixir with Michael Dalton.

Comparisons aside, they are merely a descriptive reference point, I hope you take this opportunity to form your own opinions, but make no mistake, that Michael always adds his own twists to traditional sounds in a seamlessly woven tapestry.

One thing is certain...someday people will be comparing themselves to Michael Dalton.

In Conclusion

I asked Michael one last question, although I had many more, I thought I should leave a little mystery. Who or what inspires you the most? Michael replies with a sparkle in his eye, and a mischievous grin begins to form, his answer: His audience inspires him, the everyday people show up, enjoy life, and enjoy the music, and those who support local artists in whatever form of expression they offer. "People who've stopped complaining about this shit show and just dance as good as they can, or paint."

Michael Dalton is truly a musical force to be reckoned with...Thirteen is absolutely, unquestionably a great solo start. It's just a matter of time before everyone else figures it out. However, don't just take my word for it, by all means discover your own favorites and be carried away to your own flights of fancy, my opinions are only to pique your interest. Please give it a whirl, grab a copy of Thirteen and judge for yourself. Try to choose your favorite...if you can pick just one. The first video for Thirteen is the song "Rust" and is scheduled to be showing soon.


1). THE OMEN - starting with a Resophonic guitar's distinctive sounds emblematic of country, bluegrass, blues, and folk music. This song is a great homage to past, pride, and reverberates with traditional resonating steel-guitar sounds.

2). RUST - celebrates the lacklustre, not everything needs to be shiny to be beautiful, things that are decaying and tattered can be just as spectacular, like Wabi-Sabi, patina, and weathering Mother Nature and Time can bring. Celebration life, emotions, and tradition, the key change and the Turkish-inspired denoument is a lovely, exotic surprise.

3). WHAT I MEAN - evokes homecomings and kinship, sentimental nostalgia, friendship and the bonds of home that draw you back to a place.

4). THESE OLD SHOES - imagery of the wayfarer and wanderer, this song is like an incantation to the rails, to adventure, and epic travels, you can picture the past iron horses spewing steam, and hear the haunting whistle as it passes, you can see the hobos in the trees, waiting to hop aboard in the cover of night. Michael says this song is about searching, and even Michael’s vocals in the denoument of the song whimsically mimic a train whistle.

5). HITCHHIKER BLUES - a solemn love song yet hopeful and free-spirited, because even a broken heart should not stop us from perseverance that love will someday land on our shoulder when we least expect it, like a butterfly. A song about being a Hopeful Romantic, and no matter how many times you fail, you will keep trying. Life is all on your terms, no one else can live your life for you, so don't withdraw from life, carry on, don't stop skinnydipping, or enganging in the cosmic dance, even if you can't find a partner.

6). ONE WAY TO GO - this one you will find irresistable to sing along to, even in public, both soothing, comforting. With wanderlust and melancholy lyrics include “you are the madness love brings” emblematic about embracing the gypsy nomad in all of us, "getting lost and being found". One way to Go is about staying true to yourself and not following the herd, with wicked and honest lyrics, this song is sure to become a timeless, beloved classic. Nice whimsical touch with the chorus vocals sounding like a distance train whistle, and the guitar rhythm beats like the wheels of the train going around and clanging on the tracks.

7). PORT HARMON - a brief soundscape of pure, Atlantic Ocean waves subtly tickling the shore. Port Harmon is a the sea's lullaby before the storm... meditative, tranquil, you can almost see the ghost ship in the distance in the twilight.

8). STUDENTS OF WAR - Evocative of a Picasso's "Guernica" mural this song has massive revolutionary flare, but needs not shout but does it in hushed, whisper-like tones. This is a song to stir the passions to spread love and peace, not perpetuate war, bloodshed, hatred, and death. This song is absolutely a great protest song, in the vein of Midge Ure’s “Dear God” or Bob Dylan's "Chimes of Freedom" or "Masters of War." Michael's song Students of War is softspoken, peaceful and still groovy, it is so catchy you will not be able to forget this one either. Let us all become a "student of heart" and spread kindness and love.

9). DRAGON'S DEN - symbolic of chasing the dragon’s tail, those vices and tempting pretty poisons life places before us, be it literal or actual, we yearn for that nihilistic stupor "we all have holes to fill". We long for the Dragon's firey breath, and risk getting burned to keep us warm in the cold darkness of night. To lull us into an amnesiac state, fall into a stupor to forget the pain of life and “erase the light” that often blinds us because ignorance can be bliss. The song is suspenseful, the throbbing guitar keeps pace, like a chase, or a dance. It may be about memory, and wanting to forget, the loss of time, and years, regret, like the fateful story Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving, or the tragic play, Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe.

10). CYANOSIS - In Cyanosis, you are transported a musical memento mori interlude, with trippy psychedelic nuances. Marked with crashing cymbals, unearthly violins, and determined, hypnotic piano. The definition of cyanosis = a bluish hue to the skin caused by lack of oxygen in the blood. Perhaps it is reference to music being to the soul, like oxygen is to body, necessary and dependant upon it for sustanance and nourishment, the very spark of life. Reminds me a little of Tom Waits "Hell Broke Luce", "Bone Chain", or "Chocolate Jesus" instrumentally, mixed with the ambient atmosphere of Brian Eno.

11). HIGH HOPES - adding 2 violins to the mix, and a flute, this ensemble piece is about optimism and positivity.

12). TWO OF THREE - this one could be my favorite song of the album, it is kind of a tie between Dragon's Den. Two Of Three is a fabulous, imaginative song about how the pain of heartbreak can put us a little off-kilter, even enrage us into fatalistic fantasies about doing away with the object that has inflicted our pain, until we come back to our senses. Haunting and morbidly beautiful, with the layering of chilling strings make this truly sublime, with a danse macabre lyrical touches like "Wisdom hits the bottle as Cupid's digging graves" conjures up a shadowy underword, where forboding demons linger, evoking disembodied hearts, deep doom, and epitaphs. Edgar Allan Poe would dig this one, evermore.

13). SEEDS - ending on a high, mellow note that uses an electric guitar and heavier drums, this folk-rock tune is about growth, optimism, a teast for the future, evolution and plants the seeds of a permanent audience I am sure Michael Dalton will find.

-By Carmen Zavislake

Many thanks to Michael Dalton for allowing me to interview him for this review :)



The digital download is $8, on CD $10, or the VINYL record is $20

(* All prices are in Canadian dollars)


PTBO Canada with Mike Judson, Episode#1

The interview with Michael Dalton begins near the end of the podcast 1:03:50 in, he plays "These Old Shoes."




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