Solo and side projects are always a very interesting ordeal. They put a spotlight on an artist and give them a dignified voice and choice of expression, usually free of the confines of his previous or main roles as a musician in other projects. With side projects, we hear the true and unfiltered expression of an artist which we may have never heard or seen otherwise. Sometimes not exactly panning out as intended (Chris Cornell) and other times, ending up to be very successful (Brian Eno, we salute you), a solo career move can make or break a career. In terms of Kenton Loewen’s The Crackling and latest release, Mary Magdalene, it would seem that this now underrated Vancouver-native is most certainly headed to fit in the latter of the two.
The Crackling is a group headed by, Kenton Loewen, acclaimed drummer of artists like Dan Mangan and Mother Mother. As well, The Crackling features members from not only those two previously stated, but the Be Good Tanya’s, Gord Grdina Trio, and even throughout their sophomore, Mary Magdalene, features the work of some of Vancouver’s top-notch jazz talent like Peggy Lee, J.P Carter, and Jesse Zubot. The Crackling could be seen as a Vancouver’s who’s who of the music scene and this can be heard throughout the music itself.
To start, Mary Magdalene is an expertly crafted record. Everything not only fits where it needs to, but everything and every note and chord excel in where they fit. You can really hear the experience in the music, echoing throughout. The record carries this, as Loewen himself put, a “hopefully dark” vibe as the music beholds a very melancholic dapper over a sometimes rambunctious, energetic, emotional rollercoaster of an album. The vocals on this record are sure to capture your attention; Loewen sings like a gruff, roughed-up cowboy with a certain alt-folk influence that creates a sometimes harsh but usually melodic juxtaposition of the softer, harmonious instrumental. Sometimes layered with backing female vocals which help soften Loewens vocals, it is clear that this man can sing and has the pipes and the means to show it.
Like previously stated, Mary Magdalene is an emotional rollercoaster as stomping, pub sing-alongs like ‘The Harm’, ‘Ashen’, ‘The Crackling’ are fluctuated and coupled with slower, more stripped-down tracks like ‘Keep Me Drunk’, ‘Suicide Is Painless’, and ‘The Cold Sky’. There is a great variety in the tracks and in the composition throughout the album, but it never deviates too far from the core message or sound.
In the midst of a time where it seems like there are an unrelenting wave of folk and folk-rock albums spewing out, Mary Magdalene is a refreshing take from the norm and offers true musicianship and skill that is coupled with raw, and exhilarating emotions that should not be so easily dismissed. Hopefully, Loewen’s name will become more appropriately known in Canadian music, as this multi-talented, well facilitated artist is more than proving his worth.