Album Review: Sherman Downey – Honey For Bees

December 12, 2010
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Music Vice contributor Steve Pass tries his hand at copy-editing a cracking album review, by Toronto’s Natascha Malta.

Title:  Honey For Bees
Artist:  Sherman Downey
Label:  Independent
Released: 27 November 2009
In one word:  Sweet

It’s not often that Newfoundland’s Sherman Downey gets to Toronto. In fact, his first performances in Toronto with his band The Ambiguous Case were this past October at Indie Week where he progressed to the finals of battle of the bands style event. Sherman and his merry band of folk musicians have opened up for some of my favourite Canadian singer-songwriters, including Sarah Harmer and Amelia Curran, and played for crowds at the Vancouver Olympics and the Junos this year.

This October I missed Sherman’s performance as a part of Indie Week’s East Coast music showcase, which was otherwise a disappointing affair. Missing the performance had me feeling a little disappointed because the whole point of the weekend was to find your favourite band you’ve never heard of, and Sherman would’ve been a great candidate.

Illustration by Natascha Malta

Luckily for me though, Sherman Downey and his band were able to press a full length LP earlier this year, in part thanks to the support of the Newfoundland provincial government. Having heard about my disappointment at missing the performance at the Drake, he sent me a copy of the LP in the mail.

The LP is called Honey For Bees – an appropriate title, because whether he’s singing about death, failed loves, or lustful cougars; he treats them all with an uncommon sweetness. The lyrics in the liner notes have been handwritten with the chord changes to play along with. The rare inclusion is a nice gift for listeners, and just the beginning of the small town sincerity that infuses this album.

The Ambigous Case back up Sherman’s vocals and guitar. They are Neil Targett on bass, Andrew Ross on banjo, Paul Lackyer on drums, and Jonny Payne on mandolin. It sounds like it should be the recipe for a country jamboree, but there’s an underlying pop flavour to music which makes it undeniably laidback and easy to listen to.

The best picks on the album consist of opening track “Soulsweeping”, “Blue”, and “Keep Your Head Up”. On these tracks Sherman’s storytelling and songwriting is most potent, and the emotions conjured by so many sets of acoustic strings are a perfect match. The musical effect is not unlike what I imagine Jack Johnson would sound like if he hailed from rustic Cornerbrook, Newfoundland instead of Hawaii. But the sunny singer loses his battle with the blues on the one true standout song on the album, “Indifferences Lay Waiting” (the track also appears on an earlier demo).

Honey For Bees has the folk sensibilities that I hoping for when I attended the East Cost Music Showcase, with an earnestness that was sorely lacking from the other acts in attendance. Makes a great listen for a morning or an afternoon in bed, ignoring the bustle of the city outside of main street windows.

© Natascha Malta, Music Vice

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