It’s a rare thing in music these days to see a solo artist who plays only instrumental music, with no vocals whatsoever.
And yet, if the chance arises, how refreshing it can be to simply take in the music itself – to allow the notes themselves to speak – without the aid of any lyrics to deliver the message of each song to your ears.
This was the notion I realized last weekend as I took in the performance of New Brunswick guitarist Ryan LeBlanc during his intimate acoustic presentation in the Confederation Centre Art Gallery last Saturday evening.
It was not a large crowd that had gathered in their seats around the café-style tables on the first level of the gallery, but certainly the smaller audience numbers and the quiet room with its expansive overhead space all contributed to a setting that helped one be absorbed into the music all the more.
And as LeBlanc’s first acoustic guitar notes danced about the gallery (he sat playing his guitar before the backdrop of a tall wall of exquisite portraits), it became a musically-engaging experience from the get-go.
LeBlanc is an ECMA-winning solo multi-instrumentalist from St. Andrew’s, N.B., who has been has been a hit regionally, nationally and internationally. To give you some extra perspective on LeBlanc, too, from a fellow Maritime musician, J.P. Cormier has praised LeBlanc as “the best I've seen in the last 20 years!”
And it was easy to tell why he’s received this kind of acclaim, as his first song, called Impact, was impressively laid down with a rhythmic two-chord minor progression (on a drop-B alternately-tuned acoustic guitar), with harmonica lines that carved out the leading theme, and made a multi-instrumental impact right away.
LeBlanc’s second song, Sea Smoke, illustrated the meditative drift of fog on the water, as the sound canvas was dotted by bright glimmers of high-pitched guitar harmonics.
Picking up the banjo (or what he affectionately calls “Frankenstein”) LeBlanc then plucked his way into a new terrain of stringed timbre, as hammered-on notes on the banjo’s fretboard pranced above his right hand’s percussive tapping on the banjo skin.
And a half-dozen more songs (even one that included some beat-boxing) before intermission kept the audience wondering what new musical soundscapes would be brought to life for us next.
At intermission, while in the Confederation Centre Art Gallery, I took the opportunity to enjoy my first look at the new exhibit of Living lightly on the earth: building an Ark for Prince Edward Island, 1974-76. There is such a wealth of interesting environmental history and information on the groundbreaking project in this display, and I’ll be savouring more visits to view it before the exhibit’s end on April 30.
Beginning the second half with an appropriately-titled song called Trance, LeBlanc then lured our ears in once again to a hypnotic groove on the guitar, following it up with tunes like Burning Birchbark (on the banjo), Cascade and Peace of Mind.
Seeming to save the best for last, LeBlanc played a song near the end of his set that involved three instruments at once – the cajon drum box played with his right hand, the guitar (played by hammering-on and pulling-off notes with his left hand) and the harmonica around his neck.
And in this dazzling one-man-band routine, LeBlanc mesmerized the room with this well-polished performance of a song called On the Beaten Path, followed by a finale tune called Flawhammer that was a wowing display of wildly intricate clawhammer banjo playing.
To reiterate, what is particularly notable about LeBlanc is his ability to fashion each song as a new melodic and rhythmic trip –– all without one note of singing –– and all amid dazzling musical prowess not just on guitar, but on banjo, cajon and harmonica as well.
For more on LeBlanc, and for a video taste of that one-man-band routine, visit http://ecma.com/members/ryan-leblanc.
Todd MacLean is a local freelance writer and musician. If you have a comment or suggestion for a review, you can get in touch with him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 626-1242. But he won’t be offended if you don’t.
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