One of the most adventurous bands to emerge from Toronto is Pukka Orchestra. The creative nucleus, singer Graeme Williamson and guitarists Neil Chapman and Tony Duggan-Smith, performs with as many as five freelancing members. Indeed, no fewer than 25 session players are credited on Pukka Orchestra. As well, the band’s debut recording is distinguished by a rare versatility in songwriting. The songs range in subject from police brutality to loneliness, and all are set to offbeat folk and rock tempos. Rubber Girl uses a deceptive backdrop of soft keyboard sounds and an acoustic guitar for wickedly wry lyrics about an inflatable doll. Williamson sings of “ruby lips and Rubens hips discreetly vulcanized” in a deadpan voice to Chapman’s seductive guitar solo. The most imaginative song is Spies of the Heart, in which clever rhyme and imagery meet simple finger snapping and steady bass accompaniment. But, despite all of Pukka Orchestra’s obvious talent and intelligence, the production is too consciously crafted: the gentle ballad Miss Right is overly restrained. Much of the group’s songwriting is inspired, but in the end the musical chemistry fails to do the material justice.
NO BORDERS HERE
Jane Siberry (Duke Street)
Tenderness, intelligence and eloquence are vocal qualities that are certain to win warm praise for Jane Siberry. On No Borders Here, the Toronto singer shows she is willing to take chances with quirky pop melodies and free-form verse. Siberry uses a playful syncopation to carry a song like Follow Me, about frustrated love. On The Waitress she turns to humor to describe a humdrum job. “I’d probably be famous now if I wasn’t such a good waitress,” she jokes. But in more lyrically complex pieces such as Dancing Class and Mimi on the Beach, she switches to spoken verse, and it is her thoughtful poetry that must hold the listener. That she can succeed on so many levels says as much about Siberry’s lyrical honesty as about her whimsical sounds.
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