© Photo special to The Guardian by Louise Vessey
Lennie Gallant, right, performs in a scene from Searching For Abegweit, which has opened at The Mack in Charlottetown. With him are Jonathan Gallant, left, and Sean Kemp. The show plays all summer.
Searching For Abegweit: The Songs and Stories of Lennie Gallant plays at The Mack until Aug. 29
Lennie, Lennie, Lennie.
Outside of Roger Younker, Lennie Gallant may’ve been the first Island name I associated with bonafide stardom. His breakout into international attention in the 1980s, however, has never clouded that connection to his home province. In fact, he has made it his career-long pursuit to explore these roots, and the varied histories of all of our Island’s population.
Searching for Abegweit: The Songs and Stories of Lennie Gallant is a journey through some of his most prized Island-inspired songs.
In low blues and purples, we are welcomed with a sort of dreamy, minor key medley of familiar melody lines from Lennie’s songs. From there, the show plays out just as the title suggests, as Lennie regales us with anecdotes and memories.
Between his polished, punchy songs, he humbly recounts the people and the moments that have informed his catalogue.
Song, story, song, story, it’s a comfy format to be sure.
Though in recent years, I’ve seen it become a bit of a trap (and a minor peeve of mine) for upcoming singer-songwriters to meander with inter-song banter that often outweighs the depth of their songs. A sort of cart before the horse thing, perhaps tilted by too much focus on becoming a professional musician, and not enough honest introspection.
But this is clearly never the case with Lennie. He’s time tested as the real deal, and his empathy and passion for the stories he tells radiates.
Certainly the songs have a life of their own, having been covered by many other musicians, but Lennie delivers them with that unmistakable voice.
His lines sit waiting to pounce with a breathy compressed, edgy vowel sound. Then a dry lilt. Then a quick percussive shuffle in his chest as he skips through syllables.
He can be soulfully lost in the words, or, true to his Acadian blood, add a certain playfulness to his presentation.
Throughout, Karen Gallant’s haunting, whimsical, ethereal paintings are projected behind the performers.
For years, her work has turned my head but I’d never connected the family dots.
The weathered trees, the stoic faces, the vibrant palette; it’s a thoughtful backdrop for her brother’s songs.
And it makes the show not just an appreciation of song, but of all expression of story through art.
Director Jac Gautreau is also the production designer behind this multi-media element.
Family connections fill the stage. Lennie’s nephew, Jonathan Gallant, is the young pup on the kit.
He’s composed and tasteful, and even takes a turn on lead vocals. Another nephew, Jeremy Gallant, masters the keys.
I’m convinced he is possessed by the music. His distinct flourishes can be raw or delicate, but always with a soft bed for the songs.
It’s refreshing to see a musician of Lennie’s pedigree and experience, at this point in his career, not just hiring old, bored studio pros.
The earnest energy his bandmates bring to the stage is key.
Also under the lights, Sean Kemp, who has been deftly slinging the f-holes beside Lennie for 10 years now, is a bit more classical than roots.
That is to say, he plays more violin than fiddle. Constant plucks and accents decorate the compositions before he summons the climaxes with roaring swells.
And you’ll likely recognize Caroline Bernard’s friendly face from the two summer Come-All-Ye runs. She was swaying on the squeeze box, and provided smooth back-up vocals.
A few of Lennie’s songs have stuck with me over the years only to pop into my brain when I’m doing an otherwise mundane task. Peter’s Dream, of course, is a Canadian classic. And, whether you’re a Lenniehead or not, I definitely recommend Tell Me a Ghost Story.
More rare than an aurora borealis, for this summer only, if you time it right, likely around 9:15ish, you can stand on Grafton Street and have the faint melodies of Lennie playing to you from both Confederation Centre stages.
Lennie MacPherson, a Charlottetown-based writer, actor and musician, writes theatre reviews for The Guardian during the summer months. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.