Whitehorse adds a new twist to the blues
For the past five years, the husbandand-wife team known as Whitehorse has made a name for themselves by producing a sound on stage that’s the envy of many much larger bands.
It’s an extraordinary thing to witness Melissa McClelland and Luke Doucet banging away on drums, guitars, basses, harmonicas and keyboards with the help of looping machines and a couple of soupedup microphones that look like telephone handsets (umm … they actually are telephone handsets).
It’s sort of like watching two one (wo)man-bands playing together. Except it’s not junkie or cluttered. It’s spellbinding.
Somehow the sounds they make fit in perfectly with the songs they write and sing — cinematic noirscapes, outlaw lullabies and sultry strutters.
It’s a sound that won them a Juno last year for adult alternative album of the year (“Leave No Bridge Unburned”) and earned them a nomination this year for blues album of the year (“Northern South, Vol. 1”).
“It’s been this great experiment over the last five years and it has continuously evolved,” McClelland says on the phone from Toronto.
“It’s been a challenge for us and it’s been really rewarding. It takes a lot of juggling but it’s fun.”
When the Whitehorse tour stops
at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre Tuesday, it’ll be as close as it comes to a hometown show for McClelland.
She was born in Chicago, but raised in Burlington where her parents still live. McClelland now lives in Toronto’s Junction Triangle neighbourhood with Doucet, a Halifax/Winnipeg native and their two-year-old son Jimi (as in Hendrix). McClelland and Doucet lived in Hamilton for several years, recording at Catharine North Studio, and still own a house here.
The Burlington concert may also be one of the last opportunities to see Whitehorse playing as a duo.
“This short run of shows that we’re doing in Ontario will actually be the last time, for now, that we’ll have this setup,” McClelland says. “We’re actually going to start playing with other musicians on stage.”
Yes, Whitehorse is venturing into new territory. They’re putting together a backing band. The reason — the new songs they’ve written for their next album, expected this spring, are just a little too complex to be performed by just two people.
“It’s been great up to this point but we want the freedom to be able to play whatever we want and make it bigger and more exciting while still maintaining the intimacy of what we do,” McClelland says.
But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. At the Burlington show, expect the emphasis on blues as in the songs from Whitehorse’s most recent album “Northern South, Vol. 1.”
On that album, McClelland and Doucet perform blues and R&B classics from the ’50s, including Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man,” Willie Dixon’s “Pretty Thing,” Little Walter’s “My Babe” and Chuck Berry’s “Nadine.”
“We wanted to reinvent all these songs,” McClelland says. “Not to just mess with them, but to make them our own in a way, respectfully. These are songs that we both know and love. We wanted to find a way to play them that’s not derivative, maybe modernize them.”
Whitehorse: Luke Doucet and Melissa McCelland are expected to put the emphasis on blues Tuesday night.