Official music page and soapbox of Matt Snell

Tuesday 31 May 2011

Petunia Comes to Town

I'm on a lucky streak, because just a week after seeing Sheesham and Lotus, another great Canadian musician is coming to town. Petunia will be playing Peterborough this Saturday, June 4th, first solo at the Spill at 3:00, with Dennis O'Toole also on the bill, then performing with the Minimalist Jug Band at Ossia starting at 9:00. I've been waiting for this one since the last one, so I just might try and make both.

When he plays with his band the Vipers, Petunia makes Rockabilly and Western Swing. I picked up a copy of their album I Live in the Past at the last show and I've listened to it steadily since. Solo, Petunia mixes his originals with old-time standards, the odd bolero, and Cab Calloway singalongs. The unifying element is his voice, which is among the most powerful I've ever heard. Imagine Devendra Banhart with a richer resonance and devoid of irritating hipsterism. He is also a masterful yodeler, and you don't see that every day.

His original compositions fit seamlessly with the classic material, especially "Lonesome Pine Hollows," which I'm looking forward to hearing again. I'm also curious about Dennis O'Toole and this Minimalist Jug Band. Hopefully I'll see you at one of the shows, but if you can't make it, here's a link and video as consolation:

Sunday 29 May 2011

Blues and Old-Time Artists I Admire: Sheesham & Lotus

Well, I can die happy, because I finally got to see Canada's preeminent old-time band. Sheesham and Lotus bill themselves as "Old Time Rag Time Mountain High Steppin Music," which is pretty accurate. Peterburgers are probably familiar with them already as hosts of the Peterborough Folk Fest. They blend hard-driving dance tunes with good old-fashioned entertainer's hokum for the kind of traditional music experience that lives and breathes, and never feels like a museum piece. That despite their patented monophonic sepiatone acoustic amplifier, and arcane instruments like the contra-bass harmoniphoneum.

It's all too common even for very talented musicians to work on their sound while neglecting the presentation and performance aspects of their show. Sheesham and Lotus are the kind of whole-package deal that had me grinning ear to ear the entire time. And as loose and jokey as the between song banter feels, they clearly know their onions and can pin the tune they are playing right down to its county of origin.

I talked to them too, and they were nice. So that's pretty much a perfect ten. They play house parties, so anybody with a few friends looking to put a hootenanny together could not do better. I've attached a link to their site below, as well as a video. Although the video doesn't entirely do them justice, it certainly whet my appetite:

Wednesday 25 May 2011

The Two-Headed Hippopotamus on a Bootjack Project: Week II

(The Two-Headed Hippopotamus on a Bootjack Project is a series of impromptu recordings released on a weekly basis. Click the label at the bottom of the post for more details.)
A joyless shoe factory
At the end of week two, it looks like the Two-Headed Hippopotamus on a Bootjack Project is shaping up to be a series of wordless radio plays. This week's composition, entitled, "I Ain't Making Shoes No More," is the story of a young shoemaker who yearns to be free.

If you missed the grand opening last week, the idea behind the project is to conceive and record a new instrumental piece each week. You can skip to the bottom to hear the latest right now, or you can stick around while I ruminate on the artistic process. I really wish I could've spent more time with this one, but then again I knew I'd say that and that's why I conceived the THHOAB project. I don't think it's my finest hour (I hope not), but it did teach me a few things.

First and foremost, I learned to play the shoes and practiced my tin cans, which I've been meaning to do. But there were some background processes I was working on too. Some people like the quick-change nature of my album Gallows Humour, but others told me they wished I'd just groove a little longer. You'll notice the last installment of TTHOAB clocked in at a scant two minutes and featured a pretty disjunctive switch nonetheless. This time I wanted to work within a single musical thought, and that's why this piece is longer - although I caved to my earlier tendency at the very end for dramatic purposes.

I can't tell, but the end result might be repetitive. The conceit is that our young shoemaker is gradually being seduced into flights of fancy (represented by solos on the tin cans), until his coworkers pull him back in line. The process repeats until he can stand it no longer, and he makes his escape from the factory. I wasn't sure that came across as sharply as I wanted. A technical reason may be that the timbre of the cans doesn't differentiate our hero from the workers enough (they are, in fact, the same cans played with different mic placement and panned left and right). I had it in my head that the cans sounded like little shoe nail hammers, but maybe I should've dug out some beer bottles or something.

One thing that I am happy with is that the piece, at least by my standards, errs on the side of musical rather than dramatic expression. On the first pass, I had our hero begin humming while he worked, and then graduate to a lusty baritone. It told the story, but it was too broad to work as music. Using the can solos to tell the story instead was a step in the right direction. I also had fun making background factory noises, but I limited myself in case I made the piece too sonically busy. As a went to bed after finishing it, my head was full of ideas for that third step to solidify the composition.

But I've already broken my deadline (blame the long weekend), and if I miss another one it's seppuku for me. Maybe I should've posted this at the top, before I gutted it, but here is this week's entry in the Two-Headed Hippopotamus on a Bootjack Project:

"I Ain't Making Shoes No More"

Bang & Jangle Radio Hour, Episode 4: Narrative Songs

Lord Buckley
Last night on the Bang & Jangle Radio Hour we took a look at Narrative Songs. Like I said on the show, most of the people on this list have extensive back catalogues, so if you liked anything you heard last night, you should definitely investigate further:

Tom Waits - Watch Her Disappear
Buck 65 - Riverbed, pt. 3
Ken Nordine - Chartreuse
Raymond Scott (w/Jim Henson) - Limbo: The Organized Mind
Lord Buckley - Governor Slugwell
Raymond Scott - Oil Gusher

I'll be back next week, and the talk of Tom Waits' influence has got me thinking of doing a world tour of musicians who have been inspired by him. I'll see what I can turn up, but I've got a good feeling...

The Bang & Jangle Radio Hour airs Tuesdays 9:00-9:30 on Trent Radio, 92.7 in Peterborough, online at

Season 1, Episode 4

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Places to Go Before You Die: Frontenac Park, Ontario

This might be a little outside the mandate of Bang & Jangle, but I've just spent a weekend camping and I have to get the word out: anyone in Ontario looking for a place to hike, camp, or canoe cannot do better than Frontenac Provincial Park.

Frontenac is about forty kilometers from Kingston, and serves as a mini-Algonquin for the area. Mini is not a pejorative - I appreciate how thoroughly marked and well maintained each trail and campsite is, an impossibility with a sprawling park. That isn't to say there's anything too civilized about the experience at Frontenac, just that volunteers have clearly marked each trail and crossing so that hikers don't have to worry they've veered onto a deer path. Frontenac's got a hundred and sixty kilometers of trail and about a billion lakes, so although I've been many times I haven't walked it all.

I love the Peterborough area, but the geography can be a bit demure. Frontenac gives me a dose of craggy, up-and-down stuff I've been missing. The wilder elements of the park intersect with vestiges of old settlements, so you're likely to climb out a stone gully into a ghostly orchard, long abandoned by homesteaders. I visited at the end of a rainy May, so the cascades were running strong and wildflowers were blooming everywhere.

What else can I praise? There are only forty-eight campsites in an area that covers over five thousand hectares, so even on a holiday weekend it never feels crowded. Some sites are closer than others, but you can't drive into the interior of the park so you've either got to pack or canoe in. We went for a walk on Sunday and saw two people the entire day.

If I go on I'm going to get even more effusive, so I'll leave it there. There is nothing I like more in life than walking, and I always leave Frontenac feeling restored and content. I can't imagine anyone interested in the outdoors feeling differently. I took a glut of pictures, but none really captured what I was aiming at so I'll just post a couple, along with a link to the park website:

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Bang & Jangle Radio Hour, Episode 3: Old-Time Banjo Styles

Dock Boggs
Yesterday on the Bang & Jangle Radio Hour I featured Old-Time Banjo Styles. I played some of the greats of the genre, and here they are again in case you missed it:

Roscoe Holcomb – Hills of Mexico
Hobart Smith – Banging Breakdown
Hobart Smith – John Greer’s Two-Step
Dock Boggs – New Prisoner’s Song
Dink Roberts – Coo Coo
Buell Kazee – Yellow Pups (Fox Chase)
Tommy Jarrell – As Time Draws Near
Chubby Parker – King Kong Kitchie Kitchie

I worried I might be casting too wide a net featuring experimental instruments one week and old-time banjo the next, but hey, I like ‘em both, and I can’t be the only one. Next week we’ll focus on Narrative Songs, if I can dig up the right material in time for the show.

The Bang & Jangle Radio Hour airs Tuesdays 9:00-9:30 on Trent Radio, 92.7 in Peterborough, online at

Season 1, Episode 3

Monday 16 May 2011


These guys are going to hell
The writing is on the wall - MySpace is over and done with. Many musicians still maintain their pages, however, as an easy place to post songs and tour dates. I've got one (, but for the second time now it has been hacked by fundamentalist rappers. EPIC (Elevated Power in Christ) has returned to replace my tracks with their own. Not only is that unChristlike, it's confusing, so I apologize to anyone who visited the site and got an earful. I've fixed the problem - for now. Obviously, Bang & Jangle is where it's at if you're interested in my music.

Am I being punished for painting Jesus in bug blood?

Sunday 15 May 2011

The Two-Headed Hippopotamus on a Bootjack Project: Introduction

It's time to face facts - the maple bugs are gone, and with them the blood to make paintings. I'm idle and artistically unfulfilled.

That said, it did occur to me it was odd to spend time and energy on an art form I have no facility in, when I promote myself as a musician and writer. Hence my latest challenge: The Two-Headed Hippopotamus on a Bootjack Project.

First, a word about the name. A few years ago, I checked Hans Prinzhorn's Artistry of the Mentally Ill out of a medical library. The book was written in 1922, and represented not only a move towards modern art therapy, but also one of the first examinations of outsider art on the aesthetic level. One of the artists Prinzhorn profiled was Karl Brendel, a one-legged schizophrenic woodcarver. Brendel discovered his occupation while in hospital - doctors recommended supplying him with wood and carving tools when they discovered he was sculpting his food instead of eating it. Among the many masterpieces Brendel sculpted (a lot of hermaphroditic Christs, if I remember correctly), was a slice of surrealist whimsy called "Two-Headed Hippopotamus on a Bootjack."

That piece epitomizes improvisational creativity for me (I also admire its utility in removing boots). In any case, I have named my improvisational music project in honour of Karl Brendel and his weird bootjack.

I plan to release a twelve-week cycle of tracks composed, performed and recorded fresh each week. Because my songs are usually lyrically focused, the Two-Headed Hippopotamus on a Bootjack pieces will be mostly instrumental. I can guarantee some will be better than others; the production will be virtually non-existent. But hopefully I'll strike gold somewhere in there.

I'm excited about the project because I have found that in attempting to improve as a musician, I have been subtly moving away from my strengths. Instead of cultivating my theatricality, I have let it languish while I run dry technical exercises. Because my voice is my favourite instrument, I have paradoxically set it to one side while I bring others up to standard. Although I'm certainly not giving up on the other elements, it's time for the pendulum to swing the other way and practice some raw creativity. With the need to conceive and execute each piece within a day or two, hopefully I can release the drive to perfectionism, and have a pantload of fun doing it.

I'd like to note that the project is separate from the Real Coyotes and my solo efforts, so for better or for worse anyone coming to the shows might not find the same degree of ravening weirdness. Just a disclaimer in case I confuse anyone.

So, the first track. I find that narratives help me understand where I'm going, so I came up with a scenario. The piece is entitled "Sorcerer Summons the Hippopotamus God," and it begins with the sorcerer and his disciples performing the ancient rite of evocation in an isolated bog. The sorcerer's hubris gets the better of him, and the Hippopotamus God runs amok. It finds its way to the nearest village, where two bored musicians are playing for a drunk. The Hippopotamus God enters the bar and eats him. A long flute tone follows and the sound of a cauliflower landing in a bucket.

I hope you like it. I'll need all the inspiration I can get, so feel free to send me your ideas on what you'd like to hear, or where to take the plotline from here. The musically inclined are even welcome to guest on a track or two. Without further ado, here is:

"Sorcerer Summons the Hippopotamus God"

Wednesday 11 May 2011

Bang & Jangle Radio Hour, Episode 2: Songs You Can't Understand

Yma Sumac
Hope you enjoyed last night's episode. In case you missed any names, here's the playlist:

You Aularong - Cyclo
Mike Patton - Che Notte!
Kaisers Orchestra - Dr. Mowinkel
Os Mutantes - Panis et Circenses
Yma Sumac - Wayra (Dance of the Winds)
Musica Maya - My Heart Will Go On

Next week, I'll be covering Old-Time Banjo Styles. Lovers of the instrument, the era, and the generally curious can't afford to miss it!

The Bang & Jangle Radio Hour airs Tuesdays 9:00-9:30 on Trent Radio, 92.7 in Peterborough, online at

Monday 9 May 2011

Real Coyotes Debut Tomorrow!

Real coyotes, as opposed to fake ones, are shrewd harmonizers. If a pack of coyotes are howling on a hilltop, they will instinctively shift their tone to achieve maximum discord. This frightens and confuses the competition by making the pack seem larger. I've pumped the showing of The Holy Mountain by Alejandro Jodorowsky to anyone who'll listen, but in case I haven't been sufficiently clear: you do not want to miss the Real Coyotes and Them Blades show that will begin the evening!

Starting at 6:00 at the Spill (414 George N, Peterborough), Them Blades are taking the stage. You can sample their kinky pop stylings here: After their set, it's yours truly and JC Pigeon. Together, we are the Real Coyotes. You can't hear us online yet because we're brand spankin' new and this is our debut. I'll post some tracks on Bang & Jangle after the show, but don't deny yourself the pleasure of saying you were there in the flesh.

Between us we play mandolin, guitar, banjo, saw, and jaw harp, not to mention the silky vocal harmonies. We also have contrasting songwriting styles that make for a varied show. We've got real coyote skins that we will be wearing as epaulettes, hats, or codpieces. I'm really quite excited about it and hope you'll come out for the evening.

Of course, if you can't make it out that early we'd still like to see you at The Holy Mountain at 9:00. If you're far away or under house arrest, remember the Bang & Jangle Radio Hour airs on Trent Radio at 9:00, too (92.7 in Peterborough, online at

That's all for now. Cheers!


Innovative Ways to Deal with Invasive Species

The dastardly lionfish
We're into the second week of the bug blood shortage, and I have so far managed to capture precisely three maple bugs. While I suspect there may be larger environmental forces at play, I have to acknowledge I may have played a hand in their scarcity.


Kudzu consumes a home
I'm extremely proud of myself for that. I'm cooking up an alternate project to keep me busy over the summer, assuming the bugs don't return, but I thought I'd take this opportunity to muse on some methods others have used in their battle with backyard invaders. I was able to turn my infestation into beautiful works of art, but what if the invaders are larger or unsuitable for use as pigment? The answer is usually "eat them."

Somebody eat this fucker
I should count myself lucky that I haven't had to deal with lionfish, kudzu, nutria, or lampreys. Lionfish are taking over the coastal waters of the Atlantic and devastating reef ecology as they go. Lampreys (eel-like bloodsuckers that attach themselves to fish) have slithered through the canals into the Great Lakes and impacted the fisheries there. Kudzu is a weed that grows almost magically fast, and although generally not a problem for Canadians, it has been spotted creeping up from the south towards Windsor. For those who do face these menaces, there are cookbooks out there to help. In the links below you will find recipes for kudzu sorbet, lionfish nachos, and feral pig confit. I haven't had a chance to make any of these myself, so let me know how it turns out if you try 'em:

  And, because lampreys are a common feature of my nightmares, it's nice to see someone torturing them for a change. Here is a video of an avant-garde chef working with lampreys:

Wednesday 4 May 2011

Bang & Jangle Radio Hour, Episode 1: Odd Instruments

Thanks to everyone who listened to the first episode of the Bang & Jangle Radio Hour! In case you missed it, here is last night's playlist:

  • Hans Reichel - A Life Without Lychees
  • Moondog - Frog Bog
  • Harry Partch - Arrest, Trial, and Judgment (Joy in the Marketplace)
  • Tin Hat - Daisy Bell
  • Kaada - No Man's Land

 Next week, I'll be taking the "Song You Can't Understand" series to the airwaves. If you've been following it here on the blog, rest assured I'll be playing different tracks, including a Mayan treat I picked up down Yucatan way...

The Bang & Jangle Radio Hour airs Tuesdays 9:00-9:30 on Trent Radio, 92.7 in Peterborough, online at

Bug Blood Shortage!

I regret to announce that there will be no bug blood painting this week. I would be happy to make one, but there are no bugs. It's chilling to think I caught and mashed them all, but I can't quite be sad that the infestation in my backyard has gone away.

Gone away for now, that is. Chances are they'll be back when the weather shifts again. If so, you can bet I'll be painting up a storm next week, and if not, I will launch a whole new weekly project! I like to stay busy.

So, bug blood fans, check back in a week's time. Cheers,


Tuesday 3 May 2011

Blues and Old-Time Artists I Admire: Roscoe Holcomb

To some, Roscoe Holcomb sounds like an emissary from another world. Everyone else finds him unbearably shrill. I'm going to assume that, like me, you belong in the first category, and give Roscoe a little feature here on Bang & Jangle.

From Daisy, Kentucky, Roscoe Holcomb spent much of his life working in coal mines. He had not even recorded his music until John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers met him on a music-collection expedition to Appalachia in 1959. Cohen coined the term "high and lonesome" to describe Holcomb's vocals, which are piercing and unmistakable. Appropriately enough, Holcomb was featured in Cohen's documentary "The High Lonesome Sound," and the film contains some beautiful images of rural Kentucky as well as arresting music.

Roscoe has his own style of banjo picking that sets him apart, too. He uses a two-finger up-picking style with picks, but it is not your typical Earl Scruggs bluegrass sound. The rhythm is distinctive, and his playing on the whole has a bluesier feel. He was admired by Bob Dylan, the Stanley Brothers, and others, all of whom responded to Roscoe's uniquely personal take on traditional material. The compilation "An Untamed Sense of Control," apart from the stupid title, is an excellent place to start if the Holcomb sound gets into your bones. He's no slouch on the guitar either, and his a capella work can turn your hair white.

Roscoe Holcomb died in 1981, so we'll have to make due with recordings like this one. Maybe I just miss Mexico sometimes, but this song has the power to liquefy me: