Not a lot of musicians create albums in anticipation of a single performance. However, Whitehorse will be playing a show worthy of such an honor on March 2nd at Massey Hall in Toronto. In the weeks before the band plays its debut headlining performance, the husband and wife duo released an EP as a tribute to the venue and the folk legends that have crossed its stage. The Road To Massey Hall consists of six tracks, each a cover of an artist who has performed at Massey Hall at some point in the hall’s 119 years. Though it seems wildly ambitious to cover folk heroes such as Gordon Lightfoot and Bob Dylan, Whitehorse does it in a way that is reverent, intimate, and ultimately endearing.
By the end of the first track, a cover of Neil Young’s “Winterlong,” I knew that what I was listening to was a sweet, tender homage to folk music. The songs are stripped down to just two guitars and two voices, and listening to it almost feels like you’re eavesdropping on something very private. As the album progresses, it’s evident that each cover was selected for a reason; each song has a special meaning to the band.
One of the brilliant qualities of this album is how the duo’s renditions of the songs seem to add depth to the original performances. Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” is a heartbreaking song inspired by his divorce in 1970. When sung as a duet, the harmonies add to the sadness, making it deeper and more complex. Whitehorse’s cover of “It Ain’t Me, Babe” sounds completely different than Bob Dylan’s version, but in a good way. In fact, it was refreshing to hear a Bob Dylan cover from somebody who obviously wasn’t trying to sound like him.
As a tribute to the hallowed venue, The Road To Massey Hall doesn’t disappoint. The covers are approached humbly, and the album thrives because of it. I’d be willing to say that few musicians have the talent to cover such classic songs tastefully, but Whitehorse pulls it off.