"Newfoundland is not a pretty place," said Bob Hallett, a multi-instrumentalist in the Canadian folk rock band, Great Big Sea.
"The fact that our music is optimistic bellies the climate, geography and emotional situation of living there," he adds. And indeed, the quintet's lively sound, which draws equally from alternative rock and traditional Celtic folk traditions, strikes a distinct contrast to the somber, rain-soaked landscapes the band members call home. "Living there is a big reason why we love touring so much," said Hallett, and on May 1, the veteran rock ensemble's North American tour will bring Hallett and company to 32 Bleu.
Already a mainstream success in Canada, where the group has culled four Juno Award nominations, Great Big Sea has made the arduous, improbable ascent from playing dinner parties in the Newfoundland fishing village of Petty Harbor to headlining an international tour. The band, which also includes Alan Doyle, Sean McCann, Kris MacFarlane and Murray Foster, is poised for unprecedented success with their latest album, Something Beautiful, which features their most dynamic songwriting yet.
"We consciously tried to make an album that was fun to play -- and immediate," said Hallett, who lends his own talents on a plethora of folk instruments, including the Irish flute, accordion, mandolin, and bouzouki, to the album's rich soundscape.
"This new record is definitely more interactive [than the band's previous six releases]," he said. "We wanted to write parts that would come across really well when we'd play live."
And judging by Great Big Sea's 2000 live album, Road Rage, and the band's rigorous current touring schedule, including a total of three Colorado dates, the group's commitment to cultivating a U.S. fan base is stronger then ever. "When we play in Colorado Springs, it will probably be the first time that most people will have seen our band, so it's important for us to give them a good sample of our entire repertoire," said Hallett, with a jovial laugh. "If I went to see U2 for the first time, and they didn't play anything but their newest album, I'd be really disappointed."
Hallett says that in Canada, the group's style, known for its electric guitar and mandolin interplay, is nothing new. "This is mainstream music in Canada; people have been mixing it up for a long time," he said. If the band's raucous side sounds a bit like The Pogues jamming with The Chieftains, the resemblance is merely coincidental. "Growing up, we were into folk music and local music. We weren't exposed to punk rock and bands like The Pogues until later on."
The band's boldest expression of their affinity for traditional folk, is "Chafe's Ceilidh: Heel and Toe Polka," the closing track on Something Beautiful. Featuring a mlange of folk instruments and sparkling pop production, the track is a foot-stomping embrace of the band's Celtic roots and an unabashed exposition of the group's unwillingness to trade their musical integrity for a larger fan base.
"This is the kind of music we love to play," said Hallett. "When people come to our shows, they can see that we're sincere about doing something unique."
-- Joe Kuzma
capsule Great Big Sea with special guest Carbon Leaf
Saturday, May 1, 9 p.m.
32 Bleu, 32 S. Tejon St.
$15, $10 students with school ID