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Tonight & tomorrow: John Southworth and Andrew Downing take cabaret into some deep, dark woods with Easterween

By John Terauds on April 4, 2012

Andrew Downing and John Southworth present a live show based on their new album, Easterween, tonight and tomorrow at the Lower Ossington Theatre (Emma Lee photo).

Pop people call it a concept album, where a common thread runs through a series of songs. The classical world calls it a song cycle. But I think the most appropriate description for Easterween, a collaboration between singer-singwriter John Southworth and string player Andrew Downing, is Gothic Musical Monologues.

Or maybe it’s best to forget any sort of label altogether in trying to appreciate Southworth’s rough-hewn vocals underpinned by knobby-textured sounds from a seven-piece band of violin, cello (wielded by Downing), double bass, clarinet, guitar, trumpet and trombone.

The result is a dark, almost sinister sound that’s part klezmer, part Weimer-era cabaret, part acid trip in the basement of a Transylvanian pub sometime between witching hour and a sunny spring morning.

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.

The musico-poetic journey on this 12-track album begins with “Nip It in the Bud,” where Southworth’s lyrics introduce us to a rural-Pennsylvanian Amish boy running away to the big city and hooking up with a sweet Hasidic girl. The two, who have a penchant for talking to urban faeries, go off on a sort of easter egg hunt/search for the Holy grail of a lost Romantic Ethos.

By the time we get to the closing song, “Easterween:”

“Pennsylvania is awash with the songs of young Werthers
you can hear them in Bay City and in Edmonton, Alberta…”

There’s a cute, silly, compelling wonkiness to the whole enterprise that looses a little bit of steam in the sameness of the overall sound and textures.

I’m willing to bet that the live shows Southworth and Downing have organized tonight and tomorrow at the Lower Ossington Theatre will be more fun, thanks to some extra multimedia ingredients.

The boys have prepared a full website containing far more information than anyone would ever have thought necessary. For tickets, click here. To get the CD, click here.

And here’s “Nip It in the Bud”:

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
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