There will soon be real soul music coming to Montreal. While many bands these days strive to emulate the raw, funky sounds of the 1960s from record labels like Stax, Lee Fields doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone. He was around when soul music was being forged and he has been at it ever since. The raspy but passionate singer’s career has spanned 45 years and has allowed him to tour the world with groups like Kool and the Gang and O.V. Wright, among others. Fields has again risen to prominence with his current group the Expressions. They will be playing at Cabaret du Mile End on September 10, supporting their recent album Emma Jean, released earlier this year on Truth & Soul Records.

It is easy to tell that Lee Fields and the Expressions is not just a gimmick band that achieves a retro sound without much substance. These musicians play with heart, authenticity, and with an ostensible urge to push the music forward. They certainly do not sound like a band that is content sitting on its laurels, rehashing old standards. Their sound pays homage to the lineage of soul music while contributing new elements to the genre’s canon.

Emma Jean is a reflection of Fields and the Expressions’ evolution as a group and their expansion of musical ideas. The songwriting on the album is not formulaic, which is a trap that entices many soul acts. The arrangements are creative and effective, challenging but accessible. The band employs tight grooves, tasteful horns, and as always, Fields’ honest, tender vocals. In line with the soul tradition, Fields’ lyrics focus primarily on love and loss. Even though these themes are not entirely original, Fields’ delivery is like no other.

It is not often that a group with such a strong soul pedigree (and lived experience) comes through Montreal. Lee Fields and the Expressions is a rare breed of band that has the combination of undeniably supreme musicianship and unbridled depth of emotion and funk.

Lee Fields and the Expressions will be playing at Cabaret du Mile End on Wednesday, September 10. Doors open at 7 p.m, tickets cost $22 (plus fees) and can be purchased here.

The priest is going on about water. At length. Namely, he’s going on about the presence and abundance, vs. absence and shortage, of it in our lives, in our regions, where we’re from and live, where our souls linger. He’s pretty boring with the words.

You can tell by the variety this congregation attracts that there ain’t any overwhelming pressure for this priest to deliver. Downtown New Orleans, Sunday, 11 a.m. He’s softly going on about water to folks from Des Moines, Birmingham, Chippewa, Cleveland. A mother and a son from Montréal. A family of six khaki-short wearers in front of us. A bunch of Asian folks from down the road across from us.

He, they and we are placeholder for all of our routine Christian brethren. We’ve come to be together and remind ourselves how lucky we are. How much water we have in our lives—how much more we can get. How God is to thank for it. My mother and I are just tourists waiting for lunch. The little, thickly bespectacled priest is going on about drought in California. We listen politely.

But then he starts in about a different kind of water. That deep kind of thirst only God can deliver on. That God nectar for our souls. “Only God can quench that thirst,” he says, and folks seem to believe him.

He has us rise, and he has us sit. He has us rise again. A couple of things are constant, though: the remnants of a speech impediment, and the word “quench.” And whether he’s talking about Arkansas spring water, fire in Colorado, or that all important soul water (though he absolutely does not use any term even remotely as evocative as “soul water”), God’s got the stuff, and has and will provide, as long as we let him and are thankful.

Like, the priest goes on, when all those Jews newly freed of bondage were complaining to Moses about how wretchedly un-quenching the desert is, bemoaning how they’d likely croak of thirst because of the damn freedom they’d newly acquired at his behest. How God talked some nice talk about water that came true, water gushing from rock struck, saving Moses’ flock. And how we, too, listening to this boring, old, swagger-free sermon, should also be reminded of the oldest bit of jive in the book: have faith and God will provide.

Amidst all this—with all the “let us pray” moments, and believer hands firmly forward in abandon, and individual thirsts right ready for the communal quenching, the sermon meandering dangerously close to Gatorade-commercial territory—I start assuming it’s like this every Sunday. Folks in from partying on Bourbon Street, working up to brunch, praying meekly in the one proper shirt they packed. Another Sunday in a big, easy port city. Immaculate Christ as usual.

When collection rolls around its wicker baskets—outstretched by local parishioners holding them out on broomsticks—I tell my mother 2000 years of empire is enough. When the priest has us kneel, I tell her we will not. There’s something admirable about all these folks apart yet here, together, liturgically bound in some form of equality. A classically, ruling-class trained, lovely mezzo-soprano entrances all into one quenched body. But she and I won’t pretend we’re buying in. It’s inevitably heavy stuff, I guess.

But meanwhile, the kids in the flock seem to have the right idea. I’m parsing arguments for fate vs. particularism, confining the great swindle of illusory, sentimental equality, framing the classist irony of liturgical musicianship, of its fine, aristocratic affectations—but the kids have other worries to focus on.

The number of stars in the glasswork, for instance, seems to be on several little guys and gals minds. You can see them gazing up, counting with tiny pointing index fingers, mumbling arithmetic. The number of crosses in the wrought-ironwork decorating the benches, also, attracts the attention of more than a few. And plenty of them are just worried about staying still too long, fidgeting and congregating with, like, the world. All of them chock full of water. These young folks are still on the right track, me thinks.

Finally, a little boy to our left points a sermon program at my mother and blows her away with what I assume is a machine gun. He smirks and breezily moves on to his next victim. The music is still so lovely, gladly, and makes for a nice segue as we subtly avoid communion. We come out onto Baronne Street so hungry. It’s catfish po-boys time, and all is well in the world.

I met Karneef in the window-light of a café in Parc Ex. He’s tall and lanky with a head full of wild reddish blonde hair. This guy fills the room with an energy which draws one in, not the frenetic type that sometimes gets in the way. Right away, it became apparent to me that Karneef is mad articulate and that asking him straight questions in a formal way would be a waste of time. Instead, I opened up a triptych: where have you been, where are you now, and where are you going?

“I’m from the Ottawa River Valley originally. I grew up on a horse farm, my father was a breeder,” he said. But it wasn’t all aster flowers and manure. Karneef spoke about his father’s interest in telephonics and how that early introduction to telephony opened him up to technology and music.

“I could actually tell which numbers were being dialed by hearing the tones,” he said. “I could hear tonal relationships and identify them.”

Even though Karneef is brilliant, his path as an artist hasn’t been a frozen rope; he’s faced his share of ups and downs.

“I applied to the electro-acoustics program at ConU and was rejected,” he said.

After studying for a year or so, he reapplied and was granted a conditional acceptance. He moved to Montreal with a friend who was also accepted to the program.

“Having someone there in the program with me was very motivating,” he said. “I like having my back to the wall.”

After Concordia, Karn didn’t jump slipshod into his own project. He wanted to be ready.

“It was 8 years before I started this solo project,” he said. He added offhandedly with a smirk that “everyone’s doing it these days.”

We got around to talking about what drives Karneef’s creativity—it’s this almost mystical observance of the world around him.

“I have this kindred connection with the rhythmic world,” he said. “I can’t ignore time— it’s everywhere from the pacing of people’s voices to the cars passing on the street.”

I couldn’t help but see his ability to spot these rhythmic sympathies as an offshoot or evolution of the same gift he discovered while listening into a phone receiver as a child. If you want to sample Karn’s penchant for rhythm, check this clip of him messing around on the drums:

And he doesn’t even play in his current band.

His current album Love Between Us—a soul/funk/rock/electro tour de force—was released this past November. I asked him about the process.

“I actually had to be diligent and rigorous,” he said. “I had to be disciplined.”

And then another sly aside: “I wonder if I can do it again.”

Later, he answered his own question with a faux serious “Yes.”

He told me that he’s got a slew of new tracks he feels have the potential to make an even stronger release in future.

All in all, it was a really fresh afternoon talking with an artist who has the rare ability to think deeply about his craft and articulate it in a way that doesn’t lull one into a coma. I’ll be at his show on Valentine’s Day dressed up to the nines. I’ll paint you a portrait of the show next week. Until then, I’ll try to stay in tune with the time all around me.


Karneef performs Friday, February 14 at Cabaret Playhouse. Tickets cost $5 before 11 p.m. and $7 after. See the Facebook event page for more info.

Photo by Jesse Anger.

There’s this thing I do the second I get in the door: as soon as I’ve removed my shoes, be they oiled leather boots or burnished tan calfskin wingtips, I pull out the large Moneysworth 100% horsehair shoe brush I keep by the door especially for these routine instances and I vigorously, smartly, swiftly give my shoes a no-nonsense brushing.

Now, this, to the connoisseur, is a matter of simple maintenance. A properly patina-ed dress shoe or boot will shine back to life as dust and pedestrian hazards are effortlessly swept off the upper; the general muck, calcium or unmentionable whatever will part with a well-oiled shit-kicker with miraculous ease under a brisk hand. Every proper clotheshorse will tell you this simple bit of care will add years to quality shoes, whether they be dainty or heavy duty.

But everyone else—and there’s a lot of everyone-elses—will first wonder if I’m endearingly fastidious, or just compulsively weird. Never, though, will they doubt I’m being peculiar. And with those for whom the sight of the brush in my hand has become an expected one, I am more than a little familiar with the recurring eye-roll or sigh, not to mention the not-too-occasional snigger or scoff.

I don’t mind, of course. This isn’t ninth grade; I have no desire to pretend I don’t know better. But I wonder how they don’t realize I’m just efficiently ruggedizing for the vortex. If maybe they don’t realize their own spirit animals could use a little winter shellac. This wind-chilled port city of ours is a case study in emotional and physical decay a full five months a year, and surely you’ve noticed the signs yourself. It runs deeper than potholes—marks every foot, colours every bit of skin.

You may, for instance, have a friend, as I do, who schedules morning baths of Vitamin D light in his kitchen. He’s got a lamp for that; they have a spiritual bond, he and it.

You may, say, have spent all of December wrapped in blankets bingeing on Frasier. I know I did, with all of House of Cards, and Arrow’s heavy-handedness, too, for good measure. Lots of peanut butter cookies, for shame, and lots of late-night squats to repent (my ass got to hurting from all the sitting).

Needless to say, we all fall into and try to strike out of all that—me included, thankfully. Now, I’m braving the slush and black ice and anti-freeze-laced salt the city sprinkles over everything. And you know what makes it easier on the soul? Footwear that doesn’t look like it belongs in second grade, and leather that doesn’t look like gluttonous deposits are trying to eat their way through to the toes.

And so, shoe care is the balm to the well-prepared wintering soul, keeping winter’s teeth out where possible. A step-by-step meditation, you might say, with clear results.

Take a cold solemn night, for one, where I can literally see the heavy cold ghosting off the school across the way. Then, there’s nothing like a good shoe-shining session to keep the lid on the old mind. Imagine a little Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee for warmth, a little Trophy Wife, guilt-free, in the background. Picture those formerly calcium-eaten boots then sheening like big Blistex-ed lips, or a fine pebble grain cap-toe resplendently reflecting your silhouette. Take it in. Keep it with you.

My back always hurts a tad by the time I’m done shining, but I’m always greatly relieved knowing my feet’ll be ready for the upswing, the storm, the mess. I look over at a healthy-looking pair or two and I know they’ll get me wherever. I know ecstasy could indeed swell from the ground up, even on the cold front. And the elements can go screw themselves.

And the brush is a big help.

If Krystale is a machine as she claims, she is one that has soul.

That was a terrible pun, but it highlights a theme of the Montreal singer’s new album Machine. She continually navigates a balance between warm, romantic vocal delivery and cold, withholding lyrical content. The dichotomy creates an exciting, diverse set that will satisfy any fan of original soulful music. Krystale succeeds here by singing with a confidence and talent that command attention from the listener. The songs are complex but catchy, the performances are first rate (Krystale is joined by Harvey Bien-Aimée on drums, Hrag Keuchkerian on guitar, and Pierre Erizias on bass), and the production by Tim Gowdy creates a lush sonic atmosphere that coheres the album.

Machine is a clear synthesis of Krystale’s previous EPs, the jazz-inflected Reboot (2011) and The Good Fight (2012) in which she was joined by beat-maker Kaytranada. It is her most unified work and it achieves the ideal of sounding organic, even with the inclusion of electronic elements. Many musicians categorize themselves within the jazz, soul, R&B, and electronic genres but nobody else sounds like Krystale.

While Krystale’s vocal prowess is undeniable, the emotional tone of her lyrics is one of the most noticeable attributes of the album. She is vulnerable but also closed off, making the listener curious as to what will come next. With song titles like “I Don’t Like to Share” and lyrics such as “I’m a Machine” and “I be cold if I have to / self control is a virtue,” we can only wonder why she is so emotionally guarded. There are lighter moments, though, with lyrics about restarting, changing perspectives, love, and companionship.

The title track puts Krystale’s expressive vocals on display while leaving room for funky bass fills from Erizias. Here we also witness how tight the band is through a complex arrangement that includes a four-on-the-floor, head-bobbing bridge and syncopated hits to close the song. Bien-Aimée’s drums and Keuchkerian’s guitar riffs are in the forefront of “Cold Without You.” They pair with Krystale’s airy, emotional singing to create a spacey, entrancing musical experience. “Midnight Blue” sounds nothing like any of the other songs but could be the one that best encapsulates the balance between upbeat, accessible music and sombre but tender lyrics. This is the song with the fastest tempo and has an unrelenting rock feel, all while being matched with lyrics such as “I taught myself disaster when the hue soaked in my sight / but the dark seems so fulfilling / there’s no way to change my mind.”

Some listeners might notice that many of the songs have similar structure with verses, choruses, and a bridge toward the end of the song, but each composition is unique enough that it stands on its own. Machine works because each song is catchy in its own right, but when put together they all gel as a cohesive work of art. Krystale’s vocals and compositions carry the album, but the instrumental performances and production prove just as integral to the outcome. Krystale’s sound is wholly unique, particularly within the Montreal area, and that makes Machine an album you do not want to miss.