Now Playing: Bloom
Music Road, July 13 2008
By Kerry Dexter
Stretching, bending, pushing, pulling, dancing, and having a thoroughly good time with it all, the McDades take folk music on a joyous excursion that’s both on the edge of the genre and right at the center.
That’s not so unusual when you consider that among the five members of the band they bring influences and training from classical, folk, jazz, French-Canadian, and English-Canadian music to the mix. Add to that that three of the band, brothers Jeremiah and Solon McDade and sister Shannon Johnson, grew up playing together with their parents in a family band. Add to that, that the three of them did that growing up in Edmonton, Alberta, a place where the west, the singer-songwriter tradition, and country music cross paths, and add to that the fourth and fifth members of the band, Andy Hillhouse and Francois Taillefer, bring their own backgrounds across a range of music.
What’s outstanding about this is how they all collaborate on a driving, high-stepping vibe that begins with the instrumental The Whistle Blower and keeps on going through ten cuts. The McDades recently won a Juno, the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy, for this album, and it’s easy to understand why. Most of the music is original and it’s all quite in the spirit of the title and the cover graphic, a vibrant and varied gift of songs and tunes. The instrumentals are as engaging as the songs, with intricate and natural interweaving of melody and back line. Notable tracks include Ma Bonne Dame, Pull the Anchor, and Smuggler’s Cove.
I’d add that if you have the chance to see The McDades live, take it. I watched them have a lively and fun time with several thousand Scottish school kids in Glasgow, and if they can handle that audience, imagine what they can do elsewhere.
Sing Out! Volume 51#4 – Winter `08
By Steve Edge
A warm, sunny July afternoon in Mission, a small town 50 miles east of Vancouver, Canada. The 20th annual Mission Folk Music Festival is in full swing, and a few hundred music fans are clustered under the trees at the Shady Grove Stage, overlooking the green fields of the Fraser Valley and the snow-capped peak of Mt. Baker beyond them. The workshop / session involves two Canadian bands, The Bills and The McDades. The line-checks are going to take a while. Nobody is worried. The weather is pleasant, we have shade, and music is coming. The bands begin rather like sparring partners in a boxing ring, moving around each other, laying down patterns, setting the pace. Then it kicks off. This is Jam Band Heaven, with music shifting smoothly from Celtic to Balkan, Swing to Klezmer, Old Time to Jazz, and back again. The audience is transfixed, aware that this is the essence of a great festival experience: gifted musicians sharing the stage and giving us a unique musical cornucopia. The more ambitiously energetic get up and dance beside the stage. Others sit up a little more attentively. Everyone is grooving, smiling happily. This is rapture of the finest musical kind. It is not Armageddon. Far from it. It’s nirvana, but not that Nirvana! Nobody is leaving. Judgement is only being passed by dancing feet and gyrating bums in lawn chairs. The music is increasingly captivating and impressive. My mind drifts back to earlier encounters with The McDades. How did they become this good?
Spring 1998, Celtic harpist Terry McDade from Edmonton leads his two sons and daughter onto the stage at the WISE Hall in Vancouver. Shannon Johnson (fiddle, vocals) has played here before, with Bill Bourne. Her brothers, Solon (bass) and Jeremiah McDade (flutes, whistles, etc.) are younger and this is their first time on the coast. The music is much more than Celtic, it moves in more exotic ways. The siblings are clearly extraordinarily talented musicians. People still talk about this concert, almost a decade later. Four years on, and The McDades are now a trio, with special guests, and they have released their first CD, “For Reel”, with some powerful original fiddle tunes & songs, and innovative arrangements of standards like “The Rocky Road To Dublin”. Two years further on, and we are at the Canmore (Alberta) Folk Festival. The post-festival jam session is underway, led by Texas polka deviants Brave Combo, an African griot and his band, Allakomi, and those McDades are taking over, leading the way into some very adventurous African jazz safari. The following weekend, Jeremiah blazes an amazing soprano sax solo at the Edmonton Folk Festival’s finale. Something has happened to The McDades. They have morphed into a top-notch band featuring three of Canada’s most imaginative and accomplished multi-instrumentalists and singers.
In 1998, Solon and Jeremiah moved to Montreal to attend McGill University. They both graduated with distinction from the Jazz Program, and now divide their time 50/50 between Montreal and Edmonton. I ventured the opinion that the eclectic music scene in Montreal may have triggered this quantum leap. Solon counters: “We draw most of our inspiration from seeing & playing with other groups from around the world & from the experience of growing up playing music with our parents. They taught us to be open to all types of music & culture and we’ve tried to surround ourselves with players that look at music in the same way.”
They released their second CD, “Bloom”, at the end of last year, and it has already garnered several prestigious Canadian music awards. The array of supporting musicians continues to change, with Quebecois guitarist Simon Marion replacing B.C.’s Andy Hillhouse (ex Mad Pudding), who in turn replaced Genticorum’s Yann Falquet. A variety of percussionists add their skills to the mix: “Francois Taillefer (who’s in Spain right now studying cajon,) Eric Breton who is an expert at Brazilian, Peruvian & Cuban drumming, & Louis- Daniel Jolie who has just finished a 5 year stint with Cirque Du Soleil & is being blown away by Cirque Du McDades! We’ve also started doing gigs with a jazz / alt drummer named Stefan Schneider, who also plays with Belle Orchestre and the cellist Jorane.”
So, what’s next? “Right now we are working on music for our next record. We’ve just finished recording with Maria Dunn for her new album, and have plans to record with Annabelle Chvostek (ex Wailin Jennys) . We are also working on an electronic remix of “Bloom” & other things for a “Wired McDades” release. We’ll be on tour this winter including dates in Canada, the US & Europe.”
Check out The McDades when you get the chance. They will restore your faith in creative music that’s true to its roots.
Celtic Colours Live Show Review
The McDades at the Festival Club, St. Ann’s, Cape Breton
by Tom Knapp 10/11/07
An hour earlier, I was sitting backstage with the McDades musing over possible definitions of their music. Now I was seeing them in action, a Sunday night performance at the Festival Club that made a description ever harder to nail down.
The quintet from Alberta was completely rocking out on acoustic instruments, building an organic groove that flitted and flowed and ricocheted around the room. The pinnacle of their performance was an improvisational jam that was constructed (or did it just grow, completely free of design?) before our wondering eyes.
Jeremiah McDade kicked the lengthy number off with the best funky didgeridoo imitation I’ve heard. (He later told me it was actually an example of Tuvan throat-singing from upper Mongolia, but it still sounded like a didge to me.)
The set featured an intricate dialogue between fiddle and flute. Solon McDade was rocking hard on the upright bass, while Shannon was playing a sinuous fiddle; it looked like bellydancing might be imminent, although it never occurred.
There was a bit of a guitar and percussion melee, executed at the hands of non-siblings Simon Marion and Eric Breton, before Solon and Jeremiah held a lengthy discussion on the bass and soprano saxophone that seemed to roam over diverse topics such as life, poetry and Moroccan cuisine. Then everyone jumped back in for a potent melange of music that powered through to the end.
You got the feeling the music was coming to life, fresh and glistening from the womb, right before your eyes, and to some extent it was. The bandmates said later the melody was established in advance, but everything else came together as they went.
It was, as of that night in the Festival Club, a tune with no name. It was a little exhausting just to watch, and a lot exhilarating. I hope they record it, but I’m not sure they can; some things just aren’t meant to be confined.
Is this Celtic or Middle Eastern? Wait a minute… aren’tThe McDadesfrom Alberta? I saw this group stun the Folk Alliance crowd in Nashville a few years ago and today they are even better. A family band with years of experience,
you cannot pigeon-hole them. Their instrumentals start with an Irish flair, but feature jazz like solos and arrangements. The melodies seem influenced by Eastern European style time signatures, often featuring bass solos, and Jeremiah McDade almost cannot contain himself on flutes and whistles. He just explodes. The group has male and female lead singers, good song selection, and they don’t copy what they listen to.
Canadian band makes music real family affair
By Diane Wright
The Seattle Times 26/12/07
Like Americans, many Canadians came from Celtic-rooted nations like England, Ireland and Scotland. But many also come with French roots. “Canada is very open, culturally. It’s a culture that’s very accepting with being within a border but having pride in your ancestry and where you come from,” said Solon McDade of The McDades, a group whose music has Celtic roots but with overlays of jazz and world music. The McDades perform Friday at the Edmonds Center for the Arts.
In this brother-sister group, fiddler Shannon Johnson, 38, is the eldest, followed by bassist Solon, 33, and multi-instrumentalist Jeremiah McDade, 30. Joining them in this concert are drummer Eric Breton and guitarist Simon Marion. Shannon, Solon and Jeremiah performed with their parents, Terry and Danielle McDade, as the McDade Family Band for 20 years, off and on.
“We really have a lot of respect for classical and jazz musicians and people who are masters of their instruments,” said Solon McDade. The McDades are known for their expert blending of sounds, taking influences from many different cultures. “We take a lot of inspiration from Europe, North Africa, India, China, Eastern Europe,” he said.
Friday’s concert features 19 or 20 songs from two albums, “For Reel,” and “Bloom,” their latest CD, winner of a Juno Award, Canada’s equivalent of the Grammy. There’s also new material not yet recorded. The band plays mostly original works as well as tunes from American and Canadian composers and a few traditional French tunes. Everyone in the band is bilingual, and “It’s important for us to mix those elements together,” said McDade.
“Les Trois Capitaines,” for example, is an upbeat tune about three captains who go off to war and meet back at the end of the war at the pub. They get drunk at the relief of still being alive. These traditional tunes, often without a named composer, are called “chansons à répondre,” songs in which one person in the band sings a line, and everyone sings it back. It’s a Quebecois song style built around having everyone sing together, and the band invites audiences to join in.
Birth-order roles shift in this group, said Solon. Though fiddler Shannon helped choose a lot of the early material with their parents in the family band, now as adults, “It’s almost like the three of us change roles, depending on the subject and what each person goes through, professionally and emotionally,” McDade said. “One person will be the leader on one project, and the next project might be someone else’s. Everyone has input.”
Being family makes for seamless performances on stage. “A part of the song will come up that’s unrehearsed and not planned out, and they’ll play two lines that blend and complement each other so perfectly people assume it’s been arranged, but it’s not,” he said.
Johnson wrote two of the songs the band plays. “Dance of the Seven Veils” is inspired by the dance Salome did for King Herod. It’s in an odd meter, with a scale that’s Middle Eastern in sound. “We like to say people have their opportunity for their inner hippie, and they get expressive with their dancing. We’re happy to see people dancing in the aisles,” said McDade. That tune is connected to another one, “The Silver Platter,” about the tray the head of John the Baptist rested on during Salome’s dance.
Another tune that multi-instrumentalist Jeremiah wrote is “Robin’s Song,” after a visit to Western Canada’s Desolation Sound. “He plays a bansuri, a bamboo flute from India, and it has such a unique sound — earthy, dark-toned — and it inspires that Asian, East Indian sound,” said McDade. American culture is a huge influence in Canada, so Mike Cross’ “The Bounty Hunter” is about two cowboys who meet in a town. One is a bounty hunter, and they mix the melody with a cajon, a drum from Peru. The theme and the feel [is] a western cowboy, and then it goes global.”
McDade believes it works because North American influences have always been global. “When you think of the settling of Canada and the U.S., people from around the world were coming to make their way,” he said. “And a lot of them still are. They’re bringing their cultures and their sounds and their ideas to their new towns.”
Well Deserved Juno
World Music Central
It is not surprising that this CD by the excellent Canadian band The McDades won the Juno Award (the most important national musical award in Canada) for Best Roots and Traditional Album of the Year in 2007. In recent years, Canada has produced superb roots music bands that cross boundaries. The McDades is the latest addition to the list.
The main source of inspiration for The McDades is Celtic music, drawing upon Irish and Breton music. But there are also global rhythms present in the form of the Peruvian cajón and the Arabic darbuka, as well as the sounds of the Indian bansuri (flute) and even throat singing.
By George Graham
Celtic music is at least as strong in Canada as it is in the US, with a good number of bands and artists from the country having an impact on the international scene. April Verch and Searson are a couple of the more popular. This week we have CD by another excellent group, this one not from the Atlantic coastal regions of Canada where many such groups have originated, but from Edmonton, Alberta. And like Searson, they are a mostly family band. They bear the self-explanatory name the McDades, and their new CD, their second, is called Bloom.
The McDades are two brothers, Solon and Jeremiah, and a sister Shannon Johnson, who are joined by two unrelated colleagues, guitarist Andy Hillhouse, and François Taillefer a world-travelling percussionist who specializes in hand percussion. Shannon plays fiddle and sings, Solon plays acoustic bass and sings, and Jeremiah plays all manner of wind-instruments, including penny whistle, Irish flute, and a jazzy-sounding soprano saxophone. Their music is wide-ranging, though it remains acoustic. While their major influence is Celtic, like many others in the increasingly eclectic scene, they draw on varieties of world music, including some Middle Eastern sounds. Taillefer’s hand drums can often sound Middle Eastern, and interestingly, he is not often heard on the standard Irish hand drum, the bodhrán. The band has excellent sibling vocal harmonies, but a lot of this recording is instrumental. And they do use the opportunity to show off their outstanding musicianship — not overly flashy, but tight, and often showing creative, sometimes unexpected arrangements. The group are also known for their jazzy improvisations in performance.
The material they draw on runs from original instrumentals to a song by 1960s folk luminary Ian Tyson. And there is a share of traditional music, including some in French. It’s a very appealing mix of influences and sounds that often has an infectious rhythm.
Opening is one of the original pieces, an instrumental called the Whistle Blower, written by Jeremiah, who is the whistle blower in the band. It’s typical of the band’s first-rate musicianship, with driving beat though with a tricky rhythm, and creative mix of influences, with a hint of Middle Eastern sounds creeping in.
The first of the vocals is sung by Shannon. The song, called Pull the Anchor, was written by a friend of the band’s. It’s a kind of song of nautical lost love.
Most of the CD is rhythmically upbeat, though there are a few quieter tracks. One of them is that song by Ian Tyson, Smuggler’s Cove, which the band does great justice to.
One of two tunes sung in French is Ma Bonne Dame. It’s a traditional song about a mother and son and how they support each other amidst the devastation of war, according to the band’s notes. Despite the language barrier to non-French speakers, the musical setting nicely imparts the melancholy mood.
There is a sequence of two consecutive original instrumental pieces by Shannon that were inspired by Middle Eastern legend, starting with The Dance of the Seven Veils. Perhaps not coincidentally, the piece is in a seven-beat meter. Jeremiah can sound rather jazzy on his soprano sax. That leads into The Silver Platter, a reference to the silver platter on which the head of John the Baptist was delivered. The sound assumes a kind of dervish-like quality and François Taillefer contributes to the mood with his percussion.
The band performs their version of a song by North Carolina singer-songwriter Mike Cross called The Bounty Hunter, which is in the form of a classic folk-ballad story song.
Though most of the music on this CD is upbeat, the McDades can slow it down when they want to. The closing selection, called Robin Song is almost New Age in its texture. It’s late on in the piece that they start slipping in the Celtic flavor.
Bloom, the new CD by the Canadian group The McDades is fine example of eclectic Celtic-based music that is far from traditional but still manages to keep the sound and spirit of the music while incorporating lots of other influences from hither and yon. The level of musicianship in the band is very impressive, in terms of their virtuosity, their tastefulness, their delight in combining influences and instrumental sounds, and they have great vocals when they choose to sing. With their distinctive combination of instruments and influences, they have already established a trademark sound.
For an audio quality grade, we’ll give the CD an A-minus. There is good clarity and the mix captures everything well. The only quibble is our usual one: the dynamic range, the span from loud to soft, is somewhat compressed, as is the case for most CDs these days. But that still does not make it a desirable thing for acoustic music.
The McDades defy a couple of stereotypes. There is certainly cohesion in a band dominated by siblings, but it usually tends to take the form of vocal harmonies. Though the McDades do their share of vocals, a fair portion of their music is instrumental. But the literal kinship does translate into a strong musical bond. The other is that most Canadian Celtic music comes from the Maritimes. These folks from Edmonton, 300 miles north of Montana, show that that isn’t true. All in all, it’s an outstanding recording that takes Celtic influenced music to some pleasing new places.
McDades top folk music awards list
Bruce Cockburn, Corb Lund also snag multiple nominations for second annual competition
Edmonton Journal By Peter North 02/11/06
EDMONTON – Local favourites The McDades scored four nominations for the Canadian Folk Music Awards, matched only by veteran musician Bruce Cockburn.
Nominees were announced Wednesday in Edmonton, which will host the second annual awards show Sunday, Dec. 10.
The McDades are nominated for best instrumental group, world group, ensemble and as one of five acts in the “pushing the boundaries” category. The quintet released the critically acclaimed album Bloom this year and established themselves as one of the more hard-working and visionary bands in the folk music world.
“It’s just a fantastic feeling to get this kind of recognition,” says group spokesman Shannon Johnson, who writes, sings and plays violin. “When you look at the list of nominees in all the categories, you realize the depth of the scene and it’s impressive to see all the different styles that make up the folk world today.”
Music from Edmonton figures prominently in nominations for folk awards
Canadian Press: SHANNON MONTGOMERY
EDMONTON (CP) – Alberta may be quintessential country to the rest of Canada – Stampede, cowboy hats, music and all – but organizers of the fledgling Canadian Folk Music Awards say its capital city was a no-brainer as a location for this year’s awards.
“We have the folk festival, which is the best festival in the world – folk- music-wise, the best organized, . . . and they get 25,000 people a day, just about,” organizer Roddy Campbell said of the choice.
The inaugural version of the awards was held in Ottawa just last year. Nominations for the 2006 awards were announced Wednesday, and the host city was heavily represented.
The McDades and their album Bloom, were nominated for four awards – Best Instrumental Group, Pushing the Boundaries, Best Ensemble and Best World Group. Group member Shannon Johnson said there wasn’t a lot of recognition for folk artists before the awards were created.
“I guess the only other big awards in Canada are the Junos, and they just have one category – for solo or for group – and it just doesn’t explore the different avenues that are available for folk music.”
McDades take prize for traditional album
By Sandra Sperounes, The Edmonton Journal 01/04/07
EDMONTON – The McDades continue to haul in the hardware.
Their Celtic-infused disc, Bloom, was named roots and traditional album of the year (by a group) at Saturday’s non-televised Juno dinner gala in Saskatoon. It’s the band’s fourth prize in as many months.
“It was amazing, we were not expecting it,” gushed bassist Solon McDade over the phone, a few minutes after winning the Juno.
“The competition was tough this year. We were totally flabbergasted.”
The trio of local siblings were up against albums by The Duhks, The Wailin’ Jennys, The Be Good Tanyas and Blackie & The Rodeo Kings.
The McDades also didn’t think they would win because they were seated as far away from the podium as possible. “It took us so long to get to the stage, (the presenter) said, ‘Oh, they must not be here,’ ” laughed Solon. “We were like, ‘We’re here! We’re here!’ I don’t know who did the table planning, but they tricked us.”
The trio also won two prizes at the Canadian Folk Music Awards in December — best world group and best instrumental group. Plus, they picked up the Independent Music Award for best world traditional album earlier this year. Not bad for a disc not yet available in stores across the country.
The Edmonton-based family band The McDades were the only other winners to take home more than one trophy, picking up Best Instrumental Group and Best World Group honours for their album Bloom.
“They’re indecently talented,” Gary Cristall joked in a telephone interview before the awards show, held last night at the University of Alberta’s Myer Horowitz Theatre. “It must be genetic.”
McDades bring their award winning McFolk to Cochrane
by Reagen Sulewski
The Cochrane Times 28/11/07
Even professional musicians flub up sometimes, but sometimes, those mistakes are just what they need for inspiration. Jeremiah McDade of the Juno Award winning folk group The McDades says that he sees live mistakes as a way to create new approaches to music. “There’s a few songs where we’ve changed the arrangement because of something that someone’s done in a show — when you make a little mistake but you just go with it, ” Jeremiah said. This is the kind of improvisational approach that the McDades bring to their live shows, and which they will showcase in Cochrane at the RancheHouse on Sunday, Dec. 2, the latest in the series of concerts presented by the Cochrane Valley Folk Club.
Consisting of three siblings, Jeremiah (winds), Solon (bass) and Shannon (fiddle), the trio has been performing together since Jeremiah was five years old. The McDades band also includes Simon Marion on guitar and Francois Taillefer on percussion. Growing up on the festival circuit in the folk group The McDade Family, they were exposed to a wide variety of world musical styles at a young age, which became a part of their musical repertoire when they formed The McDades. That’s led them to blend traditional Celtic music with whatever style strikes their fancy, including jazz and Middle Eastern and Indian music.
McDade says that although these may not seem like natural fits with Celtic music, there’s more in common with these styles than people might realize. “Celtic and the other kinds of music we play are quite closely related, and involve a lot of the same scales and grooves,” he said. It’s also something that satisfies their desire to mix up their styles on stage. “We’re always experimenting and incorporating new elements, which keep it fresh for us, and the audience,” he said.
Although Jeremiah and Solon live in Quebec and Shannon lives in Edmonton, making getting together to play a little difficult, Jeremiah says the connections they have from playing together so long make it easy to snap right back into routines. “Often it takes no time at all,” he said. “People are amazed that there seems to be some kind of telepathy going on.”
Jeremiah says that each sibling brings a different contribution to the band, which may be why they work so well together. “My brother has definitely instilled a sense of rhythm and groove,” he said. “My sister is very precise in her playing — I think the band is a lot tighter because of her. I bring the wild abandon and improvisation to the group.”
Currently, The McDades are working on the follow-up to their Juno-winning album Bloom, which they expect to record this winter. Jeremiah says to expect an even more diverse blend of music styles. “We’re delving into other musical influences and expanding our repertoire of world music,” he said.
Acts Shine at Folk Festival
Medicine Hat News By Ian Sorensen 29/01/07
It was close to 10 p.m. when The McDades finally stepped onto the stage, but they quickly proved to be worth the wait, as they wasted no time in showing their raw musical talent, by opening up with a jazzy/funky instrumental number which was highlighted by a ferocious helter-skelter flute solo, a soul-punching pulsating bassline, and a vigorous beatdown on the congo drum. The Edmonton quintet showed a knack for solid song structure, and they played off each other nicely throughout the set, with each member taking their turn to shine. The McDades flirted with a handful of genres throughout the set, sometimes even in the same song, and proved to be very difficult to dislike.
By Kelly-Anne Riess Regina Leader-Post
If you like Celtic music, then you have to check out The McDades latest CD, Bloom, where The McDades take Celtic and francophone folk music to the next level, fusing it with jazz improvisation, Middle Eastern melodies and multi-ethnic percussion. There is a mix of songs on the CD, from instrumental only, to some sung in English and others sung in French. The album features virtuoso fiddling ability and terrific vocal harmonies that only a family can have. Siblings Solon McDade (bass), Jeremiah McDade (woodwinds) and Shannon Johnson (fiddle), who hail from Alberta, are the core of the group. Together, with Francois Taillefer (drums) and Andy Hillhouse (guitar), they’re a powerful quintet that pushes the boundaries of traditional music. The McDades are creating a new brand of music with their multicultural mixed sound that makes them exciting to listen to. Bloom is the band’s second CD, and their talents haven’t gone unrecognized. The McDades, Juno-award winners, have also won awards at the Canadian Folk Music Awards and another award at the Independent Music Awards.
The McDades have been performing since they were children. Years of practice have created the virtuoso talent that can be found on Bloom.
McDades on roll into Banff
Rocky Mountain Outlook 22/11/07
By Dave Whitfield
Like a dislodged boulder on Rundle, it seems the McDades are really on a roll. When last seen in the Bow Valley, August’s Canmore Folk Music Festival, the McDades were cruising along, buoyed by a 2007 Roots and Traditional Album of the Year Juno Award for their latest release, Bloom. The McDades, who were nominated for four Western Canadian Music Awards, and won two (Best World, Best Instrumental), play The Banff Centre’s Eric Harvie Theatre, Friday, Nov. 30.
Siblings Solon (bass, vocals), Shannon (vocals, fiddle) and Jeremiah (winds, vocals), are the core of the Celtic-rooted five-piece, and are joined by percussionist Francois Taillefer and guitar man Simon Marion. These days, says Solon, the McDades just keep rolling along. The band is working on new material for a release likely in early 2008, they’re gearing up for a Christmas tour that features their father Terry on harp and plans are in the works for a European tour of Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland and the U.K. in the New Year. Apparently, it’s not just Bow Valley residents who can’t get enough of the McDades tight orchestration, improvisations and global rhythms and soaring sibling harmonies. A McDades performance runs the gamut of soothing and soulful to fiery and frantic – in English and French.
“We’re doing great right now,” said McDade. “We’re working with (Edmonton) songwriter Maria Dunn and working on her upcoming recording and working on new tunes of our own.”
When the McDades hit Banff, they’ll perform songs from Bloom and For Reel, along with trying out the new works. “We like to see how people react to the new songs,” said McDade. “If they throw tomatoes, we’ll scratch it off the list. We might even throw in a couple of Christmas songs we’ve been arranging and like to play because they’re so much fun.”
Collecting some hardware helps with the band’s image, as, with few commercial outlets for folk, roots, Celtic music in Canada, it’s difficult to get airplay. CBC and CKUA, though, said McDade, are big supporters and “Alberta is very fortunate to have them (CKUA) promoting music.”
Solon said he’s looking forward to the Christmas season as it means not only touring with their father, but spending time playing intimate gigs at Edmonton’s John Walter Museum. During Candlelight Christmas performances at the museum, the McDades perform in 19th century pioneer homes complete with wood burning fireplaces and coal oil lamps. Each year, they play 10 shows to packed houses of about 50 people. “It’s really something,” said McDade. “It’s very intimate; it’s all acoustic and you have people literally a foot away. You don’t get that very often. In a way, it’s kind of nerve wracking because they’re watching everything you do. “But we’ve been doing it for years and some families have made it a real Christmas tradition and they show up every year.”
McDades Make a Joyful Celtic Noise
Washington Post 15/03/06
By Gail Wein
Irish music in mid-March is as inevitable as Sousa in July or “The Nutcracker” in December. Amid the wealth of Celtic activities this time of year, Monday’s Institute of Musical Traditions concert with the McDades was a standout. Whether the McDades’ style is classified as rock with an Irish brogue or traditional music with a jazz feel, their performance was especially exciting in the intimate setting of Rockville’s St. Mark Presbyterian Church.
These Canadians are skilled musicians who play and sing as harmoniously as a family. Which they are: Siblings Solon McDade (bass), Jeremiah McDade (woodwinds) and Shannon Johnson (fiddle) grew up making music together. Teamed with Francois Taillefer (drums) and Yann Falquet (guitar), they’re a tight quintet that punches through the boundaries of traditional music.
It was nearly impossible to stay seated as they injected jazz and swing into Celtic and Quebecois tunes. Middle Eastern melodies crept into “Dance of the Seven Veils,” and the blues were all over “McKinley Morganfield’s,” a tribute to Muddy Waters. The band’s witty banter and songs like “Jonny’s Flush,” about a bellybutton, kept a jolly tone throughout the evening.
The Dizzy Gillespie of the Irish tin whistle, Jeremiah McDade explored the extremes of his instrument, sliding notes and producing multiphonics with his flying fingers. Johnson’s confident fiddling led the band, her fluent technique and great dynamic contrasts proving excellent musicianship. Percussionist Taillefer incorporated Tuvan throat singing into the mix. His solo demonstration in the ancient art of vocalizing multiple pitches simultaneously was remarkable.
Family band offers traditional bluegrass blended with other musical styles
Kansas State Collegian 5/11/07
By: Emily Sterk
The sounds of bluegrass filled a warehouse-style room at the Manhattan Arts Center on Saturday during the performance of the award-winning Canadian group the McDades. “They are a blend of Celtic, bluegrass and folk with a mix of modern rhythms,” said Robbie Bear, MAC promoter and volunteer. “It is a young fresh sound.”
An intent yet relaxed group mesmerized the audience. The five members of the McDades made eye contact throughout the performance. Maris Deaver, K-State alumna, said the group did it not for cues but to let each other know how great they were playing. Siblings Solon McDade, Jeremiah McDade and Shannon Johnson form the band, and Johnson said the two wingmen who contributed to the group were Patrik Dugas and Simon Marion. The McDades played a variety of instruments. Johnson played the fiddle and sang, Solon McDade played the bass and sang, while Jeremiah McDade played the soprano sax, bansuri (which resembles a wooden flute), an Irish whistle and Irish flute and also sang. Dugas was on percussion, using a variety of instruments he played solely with his hands. Marion played the acoustic guitar and added backup vocals that tied the group together.
“People come to the group and have an idea of a melody, chord progression or lyrics, and most of the time they have a majority of the song done already,” Solon McDade said. “Putting it together within the group is just arranging things – choosing what kind of sounds we want to use. It is a lot of trial and error. We just try different things and see what works.”
He said their sound of folk and traditional bluegrass came from the three siblings playing with their parents. “It is traditional, but at the same time, we are writing the music ourselves,” Solon McDade said. “We are taking the tradition and adding to it.”
Deaver said the group’s chemistry and the performance on stage showed how talented the McDades truly are.”They are captiviating, humble and extremely musically talented,” Deaver said.She said Manhattan is doing a great job building its music scene, and the McDades’ performance here is great for the town.
Chris Coke, K-State alumnus, said the group seemed tight, and the arrangements the group put together were excellent. “Their energy – the talent they bring to this genre of music – you can tell they have been doing this for a while,” Coke said.
Acoustic music is not hard to find in Manhattan, Bear said. Not only are there great bands found in Aggieville, but the MAC brings the word acoustic to life with its Birdhouse series. “We want to break the stereotype of acoustic music just being a guy singing about his woes and sorrows,” Bear said.
The Mcdades: just who are they anyway?
By Tom Knapp 20/10/07
Just who are the McDades, anyway?
When I first met the band four years ago, at a previous Celtic Colours engagement, I could have answered that question easily. They were a fun Celtic band from Alberta. (You can check out my original interview with the band and see for yourself.)
But things have changed over the last four years, and the answer has become a little more complex.
“We don’t know. We don’t have a label,” said Shannon Johnson, eyeing me over her red sexy-librarian glasses and a plastic cup brimming with red wine. “If you can come up with one, we’ll use it. It’d be cool to have one … just to answer all the people who ask us that question.”
Ah, a challenge. At first hearing, the band’s latest CD, Bloom, suggests “gypso-celtic” as a suitable alternative, but the more you hear the more you realize that doesn’t cover it.
Shannon’s brother, bassist Solon McDade, approaches the matter more philosophically — at first. “We’re approaching music without any sort of cultural bounds,” he said, pondering the question one evening in the Green Room at the Celtic Colours 2007 Festival Club. “If you hear something you like, add that influence to your music. … It can be limitless. But that can be bad, too, because you can go anywhere. It gets washed out, too unfocused.”
It’s important to remember that Solon and his brother Jeremiah are both trained in jazz, which definitely has a great effect on their music. Even when playing straight Celtic tunes, he said, “we find ourselves improvising over jig and reel forms.”
Shannon tackles the question again after returning from a brief break out back. (“She smokes,” Solon whispers, conspiratorily.)
“I don’t know, roots?” she asks. “It’s hard to pigeonhole our music without using a whole lot of words.” Soon, she and her brothers are tossing around phrases like “prog-Celtic” and “an improvisational gypsy-jazzo-celtic melange.”
“From a marketing standpoint, it would be useful,” Shannon admits. “But musically, we don’t really have a category. It’s a shame, people would like to have something to call us.”
All in the family
The McDades – real and ‘honorary’ – keep alive the music they’ve been playing since childhood
By Bernard Perusse, The Montreal Gazette, 26/07/07
Solon McDade is among those rare people who seem only too happy to admit they’ve never had a job. Of course, when the bassist for roots fusionists the McDades says that, he’s referring to what most people would call a day job. He has, in fact, been working since he was about 7 years old – in the family business, which is playing music.
Solon’s sister, Shannon Johnson, also joined the McDade Family Band before her eighth birthday. Brother Jeremiah became part of the group when he was 5. Until it disbanded in 1994, the family ensemble from Edmonton – led by Terry and Danielle McDade – spent 20 years touring North America, focusing on folk festivals.
Solon and Jeremiah McDade laughed about some moments from those years in a recent interview at The Gazette’s offices – like the time the family played under a circus tent in Sedgwick, Alta., and a storm knocked over the tent, sending large poles on a collision course with the stage. The humour? The sole casualty was the trophy that Solon, then 8, had won in a watermelon-eating contest that day.
Most of the reminiscing done by the brothers, however, brought with it their obvious sense of awe and gratitude at the musical education they received as children on the festival circuit. “As kids, we’d be surrounded by musicians from Senegal and Africa,” Jeremiah said. “That music influenced us a lot.”
Private jam sessions in hotel rooms at the end of festivals were common, Solon added. “Some guy from Africa might be playing a kora, sitting next to (country and bluegrass legend) Doc Watson,” he said. “You’d just sit and watch. Really magical musical moments would happen.”
Terry and Danielle had Shannon playing violin when she was 3. The brothers weren’t much older when they started. “We didn’t get allowances or these kinds of things,” Solon said. “If you practised for an hour, you got a quarter. If you were practising a lot, you could get three or four bucks,” he said, laughing.
According to Solon, their parents’ insistence on classical methodology – which fostered a desire in the children to be masters of their respective instruments – co-existed with a passion for roots music. The sounds of Ellen McIlwaine, the Chieftains, Joan Baez and the Allman Brothers filled the house, too.
After the demise of the McDade Family Band, Solon and Jeremiah studied music at Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton. Two years later, in 1998, they moved to Montreal and entered the jazz performance program at McGill University, graduating in 2002.
By then, the McDades – Solon on bass, Shannon on fiddle and Jeremiah on whistle, flute and other instruments – had been formed. The group is now supplemented by two “honorary McDades” – guitarist Andy Hillhouse and multi-instrumentalist Fran?ois Taillefer.
This is the lineup that recorded Bloom, which won a Juno in the spring for Best Roots and Traditional Album by a Group, beating out Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, the Be Good Tanyas, the Duhks and the Wailin’ Jennys – quite a feat for an indie album. (The disc has since been picked up by distributor Fusion III and can now be found in stores).
McDades make it something special
Mainstage finale leaves audience screaming for more, and more
By Stephen Pedersen, Halifax Chronicle Herald
Review of Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival set ’07
THE McDades, Edmonton’s smokin’ roots, Celtic and traditional band, ripped up the mainstage finale in the tent on Blockhouse Hill on Saturday night at the Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival, with a command performance for a lively audience that leapt to its feet and screamed for it like starving wolves.
The McDades were something special, all right, but down here where we eat, sleep, live and breathe Celtic music, they didn’t sound all that Celtic, even though the influence of fast fiddle reels could be felt in their extraordinary repertoire of improvised solos and unisons of fiddle and alto pennywhistle over Middle Eastern-influenced Balkan scales.
Rhythmically, cajon drummer-percussionist Eric Breton and guitarist Simon Marion laid down a continuous pattern of variable accents, aided and abetted by bassist Solon McDade, that acted like a red-hot griddle sprinkled with popcorn kernels. It drove — as it was meant to do — fiddler Shannon Johnson and alto pennywhistler Jeremiah McDade to extremes of technical acrobatics. Though the dancing popcorn that resulted was musical, it left us with a craving for more and more, just like the real thing.
Jeremiah McDade, a graduate of McGill University’s jazz program, also played soprano sax in a solo or two that would have fit right in among the best bands at the Atlantic Jazz Festival. He sang as well, as did his front-line siblings (Solon played bass up front rather than behind the band), and then, just when we thought we had heard it all, Jeremiah amazed and dumbfounded us with multi-phonic, didgeridoo-like throat singing on a hot jazzy riff.
This is a group that has to be heard to be believed, and even then you don’t believe it.
The Gift: A Tribute to Ian Tyson
(Stony Plain, 2007)
By Jerome clark 22/09/07
Another standout is the McDades’ “Smuggler’s Cove,” a fairly recent Tyson composition (on his 1999 Lost Herd), a lovely song calling up the writer’s memories of his childhood in British Columbia, here treated as if an old Irish ballad.
Live review from Delémont, Switzerland
Folworld.de By Adolf Goriup 23/03/07
After a short break the Canadian group The McDades mounted the scene and with their first track Jeremiah McDade (whistles, fiddle and vocals) and his two siblings Solon McDade (bass) and Shannon Johnston (fiddle and vocals) together with Yann Falquet on guitar and Francois Taillefer on percussion and vocals rocked the hall. Soon no one in the audience was able to keep seated quietly, either they danced and sang along or at least they started to clap their hands or stamp their feet with the rhythm. The McDadesJeremiah’s passionate and virtuous whistling as well as his beautiful singing was even topped by Shannon’s fiddle. Her playing was breathtaking and she also has a wonderful voice. Solon together with Yann and Francois produced the most brilliant rhythms and managed to keep us dancing till the last encore.
Live review from NERFA
By Ron Olesko 13/11/06
One of my favorite groups at this year’s conference was The McDades. Based in Edmonton, Canada, the group was recently nominated for two Independent Music Awards (Best World Traditional & Album Art Photography) and four Canadian Folk Music Awards ( Best World Group, Best Ensemble, Pushing the Boundaries, Best Instrumental Group).
Led by a trio of siblings (Solon McDade, Jeremiah McDade and their sister Shannon Johnson) the group plays a wicked blend of French Canadian, Irish and jazz – with occasional touches of bluegrass thrown in for good measure.
I first saw the McDades at the International Folk Alliance Conference in Nashville in 2003, and while they were amazing then – I am in awe of how the group continues to grow and expand. Check out their latest CD “Bloom”!
Dirty Linen Magazine
From Edmonton, Alberta, come The McDades, one of the most innovative Celtic-rooted bands I’ve heard lately… They’re both adventures and mischievous as they play with tempos and experiment with unconventional but generally very successful, arrangements. Johnny’s flush/The Boiling Hen is a fast reel set in which fiddle and whistle are joined by pedal steel guitar and Indian Ghatam (clay drum), and the familiar Rocky Road To Dublin gets a complex, jazzy beat and an almost abstract fiddle break in the middle. The cleverest arrangement has to be on the breakneck, Quebecois call-and-response song V’la L’Bon Vent, which is backed by Santoor (Persian hammered dulcimer) and tabla. It’s hot stuff, and very entertaining.”
James Reaney London free press
As the McDades closed the opening night… most of the heat was finally up on stage… The McDades found their groove somewhere between a down-home kitchen party, a jazzy after-hours club and a folk festival… blazing and soothing.
Penguin Eggs Magazine
By Roddy Campbell
By and large “For Reel” features original tunes-Johnson’s “Billy’s Kitchen Polkas” being a stellar standout– written in the Celtic tradition. But she and her siblings, Solon (bass) and Jeremiah McDade (various wind instruments), cleverly and judiciously intertwine their various instrumental pieces with acoustic jazz. Seriously accomplished musicians these three, they get all pistons pumping on the niftly-titled opening “McKinley Morganfield”. Muddy Waters, I’m sure would have approved. … “V’la l’Bon Vent” roars along like a river in spring spate. “For Reel”…an album of remarkable poise and proficiency.”
fRoots Magazine UK
Cool tunes with a celtic root, but much wider inspiration and intentions from this smart, chic Canadian five- piece. Spot-on playing, keen band production and a spirit of adventure mark it as more than just another exercise in giving old melodies contemporary resonance. This kicks!
By Tom Knapp 15/10/03
This is not your ordinary Celtic CD. From the very start of For Reel, the debut recording by the McDades, the smooth jazz influences are very apparent.