Touring Murmuration Nation with Emily Saliers


If you came of age in the 90s, you’ll likely remember Amy Ray and Emily Saliers as the Indigo Girls. Their music was the background music of the indie lifestyle, and indeed, they seemed to be everywhere, racking up Gold and Platinum records, receiving a Grammy in 1990 for Best Contemporary Folk Album, and becoming part of our mass consciousness, referenced in such diverse environs as Stephen King‘s Rose Madder, and the television series, Will and Grace, South Park, and The Big Bang Theory.

With their first major hit, Closer to Fine, a collaboration with Irish band Hothouse Flowers, the Girls secured a place in the hearts of their followers. The first album was followed by a dozen more.

Flash forward thirty years, and Amy and Emily still keep the Indigo Girls flame alight, but both have also dabbled in other enterprises, including solo albums that allow each to follow their personal musical paths. While Amy’s on her seventh solo album, Emily has just released her first, Murmuration Nation.

Emily’s been involved in many non-musical ventures, including the co-ownership of Watershed, a restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia, and the co-writing of a book called A Song to Sing, a Life to Live: Reflections on Music as Spiritual Practice with her father, Don Saliers , a retired theology professor at Candler School of Theology at Emory University.

With so many diverse interests and abilities, touring the Indigo Girls was enough to keep Salier’s  musical itch in neutral, until about two years ago, when she began to ponder the source of her musical inspiration. Born in Connecticut, but raised in Georgia, her ‘white girl in a folk singer’s body’ is still infused with her first musical loves; rhythm and blues, soul music, funk and hip hop, the sounds that are at the core of her rhythmic centre.

The new album, produced by Lyris Hung, a classically trained violinist who has worked with the Girls for years, was conceived when Emily sent Lyris some musical bits and pieces that Lyris cobbled together, just for fun, into something wonderful in her home studio.

Inspired by the directions Lyris had taken the ideas, a project was born, and grew into Murmuration Nation. Recorded with an all-star band—including bassist Tim LeFebvre (David Bowie, Tedeschi Trucks Band), keyboardist Rachel Eckroth (KT Tunstall), and drummers Robert “Sput” Searight (Snarky Puppy) and Will Calhoun (Living Colour)—and featuring guest appearances from fellow luminaries like Lucy Wainwright Roche, Jonatha Brooke, and Jennifer Nettles, the CD is an always moving aural river of sounds, ideas and rhythms.

With dollops of social commentary, a hard nod to social justice, and an eagle eye to environmental issues, the songs flow naturally, commenting wryly on our past, present and future, the personal, and the impersonal. Deep thoughts, yes, but also gentle musings on the fascination of relationships, and always with a beat you can dance to.

Spider” kicks off the album in an explosion of pop/art rock, before settling into a hypnotic groove, setting the pace for the songs to come.

Growing up in Georgia meant being influenced by a myriad of musical styles, and rubbing shoulders with other musicians, including the members of country vocal group, Sugarland. A vocal romp with Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles dazzles on the most commercial tune on the CD, “Long Haul.”

OK Corral is specifically about our mental illness with our relationship with guns. Even as kids we knew about gunslingers. But the wool has been pulled over some people’s eyes because of a very powerful group like the NRA. Those of us who want sane gun legislation are not saying ‘take ALL the guns away,’ we’re saying that when you have a country of people, many of them ill, and they have access to multiple weapons all of the time … something sets them off, and in a moment of impulsivity, lives are lost. We have to deal with that, on a legislative effort, and we have to start talking to each other about what sane gun legislation means.”

murmurationFly” was written right after the presidential election. “‘Fly’ is kind of at the crux of the album, ” Saliers explains. “A murmuration of birds is practically inexplicable to scientists, but it’s a very powerful thing to watch, and I see it happening in our country in an amazing way right now. From Black Lives Matter to the Women’s March to Standing Rock, there are all these grassroots movements starting to coalesce, and I take great comfort in the way people are instinctually moving together to fight injustice and hate.”

“I’m High I’m On High” looks to the roots of violent religious zealotry.

“Go find someone who’s got nothing left to lose
Brand him a hero, make him think he gets to choose
Between an earthly life of filth and apostates
Or a martyr’s lair where God and virgins wait”

This current tour takes Emily from Maine to Rhode Island, Connecticut and North Carolina, with a stop here in Toronto’s Mod Club on Tuesday, November 21. Expect an organic, audio/visual presentation, featuring stalwart player and producer Lyris Hung in a powerful five piece unit.

Saliers is looking forward to the Toronto visit, as she’s no stranger to the city. Her wife, former Indigo Girls tour manager Tristin Chipman, is an Albertan native who spent most of her adult life in Toronto, has also worked for CARAS, and was the Tragically Hip’s tour manager for their final tour.

“There are a lot of heavy, serious topics on this album,” says Saliers, “but there’s also a lot of whimsical groove and pop to it. That mix is important to me because it’s like the ebb-and-flow, peak-and-valley journey of life. I think this record is very reflective of my personality. I need fast and I need slow; I need grooves and I need a little bit of edge.”

Tickets are still available for Tuesday’s show, and doors open at 7 p.m. Saliers will be signing after the show, and hopes to see you there!

 

(addendum: This post was written prior to the Toronto show on November 21, and a terrible, no fun cold, prevented me from posting it in a timely manner, or getting to see the concert. However – the CD is terrific, and a worthy purchase. )

 

Should Obama Veto the Keystone XL Pipeline?


kpIn the United States, the battle has raged for 6 years over the Keystone XL pipeline, meant to carry crude oil over 1700 miles from the Alberta tar sands to Nebraska. Canada, and especially Prime Minister Steven Harper, has held its breath as the Democrats, led by President Obama, and the Republicans, have debated the issue.

With the Republicans now holding a majority in the Senate, they’ve decided to make the decision a top priority. Obama has already threatened to veto any such action.

The Keystone would not be the only pipeline Canada has that crosses from Canada to the United States … there are already four major pipelines in existence, with lots of other smaller pipelines crisscrossing through most of the country.

So why the long deliberations? Could it be the ‘dirty oil’ being wrenched from the earth is worse than both the crude oil and tar sand oil already being conveyed?

Wet-tar-sands-537x358Environmentalists have protested Keystone since 2011. The Republicans have told us that having energy coming down from Canada instead of from other oil rich nations prevents the States being held hostage for oil. The Democrats, on the side of the environmentalists have dubbed the tar sands “Extra Lethal.”

But the demand is there. Despite the existing pipelines, oil is being distributed by other means as well – trucks, trains and barges traverse both countries. So, why not this pipeline?

Well, amongst other things, the government has already stopped the North American Free Trade Alliance (NAFTA’s) environmental oversight commission from investigating environmental damage caused by tailings ponds in Alberta’s oil sands twice, this past year alone. Public complaints that Canada is ignoring its own fishery laws have brought the trade organization’s environmental oversight commission on board in an attempt to protect the Athabasca River from industry pollution.

Dale Marshall of Environmental Defence says the Harper government is “blocking” science from getting out information about the oil industry’s harm to the watershed.

watershed“There’s compelling evidence that [industry contamination] is happening and that the federal government is denying it, and not allowing that information to be known to Canadians and the people who live in that area. “It’s disheartening. The Canadian government is more interested in protecting oil sands companies,”

So, it would seem that oil sand protestors, whether led by Canadian musician Neil Young or not, have valid points that are not being addressed, but rather, suppressed.

Recently, Mark Little of Suncor, one of Canada’s largest oil sands producers, denied that the company’s tailings ponds were leaking into the Athabasca River. The executive even referenced historic “Voyageur” accounts of naturally occurring oil seeping into the river to back up his position.

“Oh, no. Oil goes into the Athabasca River, and it has been for hundreds of years.  There is an enormous amount of oil in the sand, and the river runs across the sand.”

But renowned water scientist, Dr. David Schindler of the University of Alberta begged to differ.

“That’s totally untrue. One reason I know industry is responsible for some of [the river pollution] is there’s a 1982 well documented spill for Suncor. They watched as it made its way down the Athabasca to Athabasca Lake and caused the fisheries to be closed for two years.”

deformed fish AthabascaAfter the incident, highly deformed fish, never before seen by locals or scientists, began appearing in the watershed.

Schindler also believes that the Canadian government is likely opposed to the NAFTA‘s investigation because it is “worried about more bad press.”

So, with environmentalists and scientists opposed to the project, it’s fair to think that the United States should be worried about possible spills involved with the proposed pipeline.

From CBC News Canada, “Through an access-to-information request, CBC News obtained a data set of every pipeline safety incident reported to the federal regulator in the past 12 years. The National Energy Board oversees cross-border pipelines. The data doesn’t include smaller pipelines within provincial boundaries. The documents reveal details about more than 1,000 incidents that have happened across the country from 2000 until late 2012 and suggest the rate of overall incidents has doubled in the past decade.” (http://www.cbc.ca/news2/interactives/pipeline-incidents/)

But meanwhile, the federal government has essentially gone all in on the promise of oil. Natural Resources Canada spent $438.3 million on programs to support the oil and gas industry — it spent $41.6 million more, or nearly 10 per cent extra, than the amount it was allotted for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. As well, an additional $24 million went for an ad blitz in the U.S. Yep, bullish on oil.

environment-1-612x336But what about the $300 million for “environmentally responsible” programs Parliament approved last year? Somehow, Natural Resources Canada failed to spend $298.6-million on programs for “green” programs such as renewable energy development and technology innovation.

The government put all of Canada’s precious eggs in one basket.

And, in Alberta, “the economic promise of the oil sands and their accelerating development are coupled with a curse. The waste gases are flared into the atmosphere, while the waste fluids are pumped into immense tailing ponds. These waste streams contain significant quantities of heavy metals and persistent aromatic hydrocarbons.

As a consequence, human health and local pollution issues are starting to become evident. Democratic governments are entrusted to ensure human health. Economic growth and environmental impacts are balanced in a pragmatic and evidence based manner. But our post-democratic society permits corporations to dictate policy and our government has acquiesced. Laws are now repealed,  allowing low cost development, free from environmental safeguards and at the lowest royalty rates in the world.” (read more here: http://www.vancouverobserver.com/opinion/oil-sands-promise-and-curse)

With the recent drop in oil and gas prices, Ottawa is also expected to lose $5 billion in revenue, and the provinces even more. OPEC, in a zero sum game, is dropping the price of oil, and that drop is creating a net loss for Canada.

Research, education, public broadcasting, and the future of national health lie in the balance as energy subsidies in Canada top an incredible $34 billion each year in direct support to producers and uncollected tax on externalized costs. And still the price of oil drops, down 57 per cent since last June.

The pipeline is truly a lose/lose proposition.

boehner-ryanBUT – the Republicans will push forward on making it happen. Not because it is a good idea, or good for the United States. But because 6 years ago, on the night of Obama’s inauguration, a group of top GOP luminaries gathered to create the outline of a plan for how to deal with the incoming administration. They would fight Obama on everything. And after three hours of strategizing, Senate power brokers Jim DeMint, Jon Kyl and Tom Coburn, and conservative congressmen Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ryan vowed that none of Obama’s presidential aspirations would succeed, if they had anything to do with it.

For Americans, the road to a national health care plan was nearly derailed, and the work may still be demolished, should these politicians continue to follow their path. The pipeline, also potentially lethal to citizens, will be steam-rollered through, regardless of environmental effects. All to stop one man, President Obama. Whether you are a Democratic or a fan of Obama, it must be admitted that this relentless attack on a legally elected sitting leader is abhorrent and incredibly self-indulgent.

Six years later, America and the world still dangles from these puppeteers’ strings.

generation against oil