On September 29th, 2019 I enjoyed a curious confluence of sound and space when CR Avery played a solo show at the All Saints Church just a few blocks from my soon-to-not-be home in Ottawa.
Of course Cravery (as I have and always will call him) is the Canadian beat(box) poet cum Tom Waitsian harmonica/piano playing blues/heartbreak singer/songwriter who has been on my radar for…my gosh, had it been fifteen years or more? And here he was performing at the very venue where I would be getting married just two weeks hence.
Oddly enough, before hastily booking my wedding at All Saints I had never heard of the venue much less seen a show there, when out of the blue I get word that a musician I have long enjoyed is booked into the place, and so close to my nuptials taboot. Despite the diminishing returns of Cravery shows over the years (he’s the kind of performer who knocks you over so hard the first time you see him that every subsequent show is just another feeble attempt to recreate that initial jaw-dropping shock-and-awe) it seemed like fate was telling me to go. Plus it was only $20.
The show was in a small stone oval rotunda off of the cafe/restaurant and beneath the big stained glass room where I would be getting hitched, and when I say small I mean “small”. There were maybe twenty folding chairs set up facing a modest electric keyboard, all of which filled the space completely. I was the first through the door so I took the seat right up front. It was a good ten minutes before anyone else came in. When the opening act began there were maybe eight people in the room. When Cravery came on we had swelled to a dozen or more.
The openers were a young sister-duo from around the corner called new poetics. Their first song was a cover of some ancient Gaelic melody or some such thing and it was hauntingly beautiful, especially echoing as it did around that tiny and empty medieval-looking stone-walled turret-room. I had my eyes closed tight, trying hard to follow their deftly intertwined vocal counterpoint and revelling in the screaming overtones that reverberated throughout the room as their two voices danced between strong consonance and purposeful dissonance. That piece alone was worth the price of admission twice over. Good thing too, because the remainder of their short three-song set was a pair of quite plain-sounding strummy three-chord originals that featured a disappointing and relentless perfect unison between the two voices.
And really, it should have come as no surprise that I had to foster interest in Cravery’s set. He performed a lot of material that I had not yet heard, but it was all delivered in his particular pastiche style that by then was yawningly familiar. I’m not sure why I find the consistency of Cravery’s sound so disappointing…it’s not like I have any problem with the consistency of Springsteen’s sound, for example…
I guess it’s because Cravery’s sound isn’t really his own. Despite his own convergence of timbres he remains too close to each of them to really have his own thing. Instead of flying his own flag Cravery weaves a quilt made up of extremely identifiable patchwork. Or so it sounds to me at least.*
But hey, it was only $20.
*Basically what I’m saying is that if you start off a song with the same G7sus4 chord that kicks of A Hard Days Night then you’ve got some explaining to do no matter what you do with the rest of the tune. Or say you start off your sci-fi novel with the phrase, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Not that he did those things. But he does things like that. Sort of.