Whitehorse duo releases debut album

Musicians Grant Simpson and Kate Weekes have shared a stage together for several years. Now they share a CD, too. Beneath the Yukon Moon, which will be released on Saturday.

Musicians Grant Simpson and Kate Weekes have shared a stage together for several years. Now they share a CD, too.

Beneath the Yukon Moon, which will be released on Saturday, contains the tensions you’d expect from such a collaboration, as a blend of swing and folk, crowd-pleasing hooks and charming storytelling.

Simpson, 52, is best known as the musical director of Frantic Follies Vaudeville Revue. Weekes, 29, mushes dogs when she isn’t writing songs or performing.

They began playing together during what would become one of several cross-Canada tours, as each promoted their own musical projects. They also ventured together to China in 2010.

Both draw on disparate influences. Simpson, who plays piano, banjo and guitar, looks to jazz legends like Fats Waller for inspiration. For Weekes, who plays guitar, it’s the Beatles and Arlo Guthrie.

But bringing the two styles together is no big leap, said Simpson. “I’d hate to sound like a teacher. But when jazz started, it was folk.”

Curiously, the album contains no shared song credits. Performing may be a collaboration, but songwriting remains a solitary endeavour for both. And each takes the lead singing their own material.

(“I think I’m too controlling,” said Weekes. “I don’t think that’s true at all,” said Simpson.)

That’s not to say the two haven’t influenced one another. Some of Weekes’ recent songwriting has picked up distinct tinges of swing.

Each track is an original, other than a cover of Cole Porter’s Dream Dancing.

Both are big Porter fans. Simpson was enough of one to name his son Cole.

And Simpson often reminds Weekes of Porter’s example when she frets about her urge to flout established songwriting patterns. Porter did that all the time, to wonderful effect.

Most of the tracks are cheery numbers – especially the title track, a love song set to jangly, upbeat, ragtime piano.

But it’s not all light. Songs delve into the Japanese atrocities committed in the Chinese city of Nanjing and the shuttering of small Prairie towns in Canada.

The question of how heavy their music ought to be remains an open question the duo are still hashing out.

Simpson, with his background in producing the Follies, aims “to create an evening of entertainment.”

“There are songs that aren’t deep, they just feel good,” said Weekes. “But I don’t want to sing fluff that doesn’t mean anything.”

Several songs are about the Yukon, including Red Lantern, a reference to the award given to the slowest Yukon Quest musher, and Watch Sylvia Ride, which tells the story of Sylvia Heikilla, who brought her young children up to Whitehorse by horseback from Bella Coola, BC, in 1960 to found the Sky High Wilderness Ranch at Fish Lake.

Unusual instruments on the album include the erhu, a two-stringed Chinese violin that sounds, as Simpson puts it, “like a combination of a flute and a violin.” There’s also harmonium, mandolin, trumpet and accordion.

Do both believe they’d been born too late? Certainly, replies Weekes.

If she could pick, she’d be living in the 1960s or 1970s.

Simpson isn’t so sure, despite having contributed to an album named Born 40 Years Too Late by New Orleans North.

Lately his daughter has turned him on to hip-hop artists like Buck 65 and C.R. Avery.

“I love being in today’s scene in a lot of ways,” he said.

The CD release party on Jan. 21 is at the Old Firehall starting at 7:30 p.m.

Simpson and Weekes will be joined by musicians Keitha Clark, Bob Hamilton, Rob Bergman, Marg Tatam & Marc Paradis.

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com

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