Brooks & Bowskill: Live at Massey Hall

Brooks & Bowskill

Cicada on my window screen / He got baked in the heat / Looks like he’ll be sticking around / Much longer than he planned to be / The wallpaper is peeling back / The fridge ain’t keepin’ cool / I’ve tried most everything / But I just can’t shake these blues” (“Heartbreaker”).

Before arriving at Massey Hall in Toronto a couple of weeks ago to attend Blue Rodeo’s “Songs Seldom Heard” concert, we were equally excited at the prospect of catching a live set from Brooks & Bowskill. Tasked with the opening duties on this given night, we arrived at our seats bright and early to ensure we did not miss some of the fabulous vintage country-folk music from the debut “Too Many Roads” album that Brittany Brooks and Jimmy Bowskill (Blue Rodeo) released earlier this year.

When the opportunity to perform on this hallowed stage comes knocking, you have to take full advantage – and Brittany (guitar/percussion/vocals) & Jimmy (guitars/vocals) made sure to maximize their on-stage footprint by inviting their band, The Hometown Beauts to join them for this 35-minute set. Featuring Kyler Tapscott (lead guitar), Steve O’Connor (keyboards), Wayne DeAdder (bass), and Ian McKeown (drums), this six-piece opener electrified the capacity crowd with a well curated mix of original tunes from their album.  

“Well, howdy folks, it sure is an honour and a pleasure to be here with you tonight, playing this fantastic room. It’s really something, I must say,” Jimmy announced, following a performance of the album’s title track. “It’s great to be here with Blue Rodeo for the Songs Seldom Heard show, and we’re pretty excited about that one. And you probably haven’t heard our songs really, so our songs are seldom heard, so how about that?” 

Brooks & Bowskill

Reveling in the positive audience response, the band launched into “Lonely Club,” replicating the late 60s/early 70s country vibe with absolute perfection. The slight flamenco flavor quickly conjured up images of vintage Marty Robbins (and perhaps even some early 90s material from The Mavericks), while the stunning dual lead vocals brought an all-out Frank & Nancy “Something Stupid” vibe – at least for me. With some outstanding triple guitar work between Kyle, Jimmy, and Brittany during an instrumental moment, the band were duly rewarded with plenty of enthusiasm and cheers from the room.

Brooks & Bowskill would slow things down with a performance of “Little Gem,” an intimate ballad led vocally by Brittany, joined at intervals by Jimmy – where the couple’s vocals melt like butter over the warmest acoustic guitar(s) (official bio). Indeed, I noticed the soft lilt in Brittany’s vocal range, and with Jimmy’s guitar work, quickly drew comparisons to Saskatchewan folk-roots duo Kacy & Clayton – something detected once again during a performance of “Golden Prime,” where Steve’s piano introduction set an immediate tone, one of raw emotion that his five musician compadres would eagerly tap into.

Brooks & Bowskill

You are the distant cowgirl in my dreams / Riding through those western movie scenes / Your eyes shine like rhinestones in the sun / And the shining of our love has just begun.” “This is a tune I wrote about my sweetheart, Brittany Brooks,” Jimmy would share, prior to a performance of “Distant Cowgirl.” “It’s a tune about our love forming and a mutual love of cowboy songs and country music.” “Lying on a blanket until dawn / With nothing else but George and Tammy on / We reminisce of western days gone by / In a world from far before our time…”  Surprising many in attendance not yet familiar with this track, Jimmy broke out his yodeling skills, and was amply rewarded by an appreciative room. “Wow, I love it when people applaud for a yodel,” Brittany acknowledged, following the song.

Brittany would share that “Tired of The Talk” was the one album track co-written with Greg Keelor, and just a few moments into the performance of this tune, that influence was certainly present in both the lyrics and instrumental pacing.  “We’ve got time for one more song,” Jimmy would add prior to their finale. “We’re gonna leave you with a song of ours called Pickin’ Party, because we like to pick, and we like to party… And I’ll see you back here with Blue Rodeo.”  Offering plenty of low-end country twang and deep bass notes, I could only marvel at both Jimmy’s and Brittany’s accelerated split-vocals. Surely, I was not alone detecting plenty of cues from The Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird” here?  No matter what – the six musicians brought a ton of energy to bring their set to a close, and left us craving much more from Brooks & Bowskill.  

Set List:

  1. Too Many Roads
  2. Lonely Club
  3. Little Gem
  4. Distant Cowgirl
  5. Tired of The Talk
  6. Heart Breaker
  7. Golden Prime
  8. Pickin’ Party

Photo Credit: Mat Dunlap (official) / Brenda Epstein (concert images)

The British guy that crossed the ocean and crash landed in central Pennsylvania (to quote Greg Keelor, “And I wonder what am I doing here?”). As the youngest of four siblings, exposure to music from a very early age nurtured my passion and appreciation for many musical genres. Continuing to discover some amazingly diverse and talented musicians based in Canada, I gravitate to live music experiences and remain devoted to spreading the word about such a vibrant music scene.

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