White­horse adds a new twist to the blues

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - GRA­HAM ROCKINGHAM grock­ing­ham@thes­pec.com 905-526-3331 | @Rock­atTheSpec

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.

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