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Listen Up: Craig Cardiff

Posted by Jer / November 20, 2007

Listen Up is an ongoing series at Midnight Poutine dedicated to featuring Montreal musicians, bands playing in Montreal, or even artists with remote affiliations to Montreal.

Craig Cardiff is a songwriter's songwriter. Case in point: Gordon Lightfoot calls him "a songwriter who needs to be heard". And I don't think Gordon Lightfoot says that about just anyone (if he does, let me know, I have some friends who need plugging). This week, Cardiff strums into town for the first of two gigs showcasing his newest album, Goodnight (Go Home) . So if you haven't heard him yet, now's your chance to appease Mr. Lightfoot.

Cardiff's new disc, his 11th in as many years, finds the Wakefield, QC folkie sounding as smokey-voiced as ever. Goodnight (Go Home) tackles tough issues, like loss, belief, and the ups and downs of relationships with others and with ourselves. Cardiff's storytelling is front and center and this is ultimately what sets him apart from others in the genre and earns him praise from luminaries like Lightfoot.

The album begins with "Revival Day", a slow and choral track that lays out the personal and theological themes Cardiff grapples with for the next dozen songs. As with previous albums, Cardiff is at his best when he takes the most heart-breaking of subjects and somehow finds hope through thoughtful turns of phrase. "Smallest Wingless", for example, tells the story of new parents who aren't parents for nearly long enough. It's crushing, but when Cardiff reminds us about the fine line between love and sadness, it seems almost optimistic.

In Cardiff's hands, no subject is too small (like the bedtime lullaby "Rowantree"). In the tiny-est of tales lie the most interesting insights. With spirituality so central to Goodnight (Go Home) though, a few songs drift into overly-preachy territory (e.g. "Dig In"). Cardiff has pulled off feats like this in the past, but the new album's shiny production job - thanks to Les Cooper (Jill Barber, Andy Stochansky) the album features more piano, strings and other backing instruments than previous efforts - verges on sentimental at points.

This minor misstep is less a flaw than it is a function of the fact that it's hard to capture on disc what Cardiff does live. He has built his career, and a loyal fan base, through ceaseless touring across North America. He's a staple at university pubs and folk festivals, and he puts on an amazing live show that mixes sparse folk with live looping electronics. He's also a pioneer of the living room show; ask nicely enough, and Cardiff will come to your house and play for you and your friends.

Making an intimate connection with fans is all part of Cardiff's style, whether he's in your living room or on your CD player. So check out Goodnight (Go Home) or catch Craig Cardiff's show while he's in town. Gordon Lightfoot says he pities the fool who doesn't. (Ok, he didn't say that, but you can imagine what it would be like if he did.)

Craig Cardiff has two upcoming shows in Montreal:

Wed. Nov. 23rd @ the McGill Grad Club (Thomson House, 8pm)
Dec. 8th @ Club Soda (opening for Pascale Picard)

His new album is available through maplemusic.



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