"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Mature jazzy soul sounds from teen prodigy
Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

The music business' unfortunate tendency to pigeonhole artists based on genre seems especially odd in the case of singer-songwriter Sonya Kitchell.

Her debut album, Words Came Back to Me, recorded for New York-based Velour Music Group and released earlier this month in Japan by P-Vine Records is an easy-on-the-ears amalgam of jazz-inflected classic-style soul and pop, with elements of rock, blues, folk and gospel that showcases Kitchell's versatile vocal chops and potent songwriting skills.

Her smooth-as-silk-delivery and jazz roots often lead to comparisons to Norah Jones, a comparison Kitchell is clearly uncomfortable with: "I've met Norah a few times and she's really a great person, but there is really only room for one Norah Jones. I think we do very different material. She's got this country thing going on and that's not really what I do. I like to rock...I don't really consider myself a jazz singer."

Mining the same musical vein as Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones and Carole King before her, Kitchell seems destined to be shunted into the ambiguous adult contemporary classification.

But can an album really be considered adult contemporary if the performer in question is only 16 years old?

Seeing her perform, Kitchell's maturity as an artist is immediately evident. Aside from a youthful enthusiasm for pleasing the crowd, there is nothing teenage about her smart and sophisticated sound, the result of far more musical experience than her age would suggest.

After singing on stage for the first time in a school show in the first grade, Kitchell was hooked on performing and says it's the high she gets from connecting with an audience that has kept her touring the club and festival circuit.

Kitchell went from the primary school stage to voice lessons and singing in a gospel choir, an experience that has had a clear influence on her vocal style. At 10, she performed with a jazz band at the 1999 Special Olympics World Games and won a Kennedy Center award for promising young jazz composers at age 12. By 13, she had an agent and was playing jazz clubs with a band composed largely of her former music teachers and musicians she'd met through various workshops near her home in rural western Massachusetts, where she lives with her younger brother; mother, a graphic designer; and father, a painter and successful abstract poster artist. When not on the road, Kitchell attends a nearby performing arts high school.

Her live set in Tokyo, with Kitchell accompanying herself on guitar backed by bandmate Miro Sprague on piano, was a jazzy, laid-back affair with the young diva clearly at ease on stage. Kitchell's singing has an affectless, emotive quality reminiscent of Janis Joplin, without the rough timbre of the later.

Songwriting is something that has come naturally for Kitchell, who wrote her first "real" song on Sept. 11, 2001, in reaction to the events of that day.

"I do most of my writing at home, just sitting down at the piano or with my guitar until something comes to me...I wouldn't say it's an enjoyable process, but it's really exciting when it flows."

Since then she's penned over 100 songs, including all 13 tracks on Words. She says she has already put together enough material for a second release and hopes to be back in the studio soon to make an album she predicts will be more oriented toward folk, rock and soul.

But does living the life of a professional touring musician mean missing out on the typical aspects of teenage life?

"Definitely, but there's nothing I can really do about that. My life is definitely not typical, but then there's the question of 'what's typical?' It's not typical to not be going to a regular public school if you live out in the country, it's not typical to be going to Europe or to be in Japan, but everything has its pros and cons."

"Words Came Back to Me" is currently available. (Sep. 22, 2005)

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Danger in our schools
And people say I'm exaggerating when I talk about having seen bears all the time in when I was a kid. The area mentioned is not more than a few blocks from my old neighbourhood in the Sault.
Click the link for the full story

Local schools take precautions after bear sightings
Some in city's north end bring children in from outside
By Michael Purvis Local News
Tuesday, September 20, 2005 @ 09:00

Recent bear sightings have schools around the P-patch and Sault Ste. Marie's north end keeping an eye out for threats to students. Some schools in the city's north end brought children in from outside after neighbours reported bears in the area on Friday. "

Osprey Media Group Inc. - The Sault Star:

Peace Activist Cindy Sheehan Says She Was Roughed Up at New York Rally Scuffle

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Reincarnation of Peter Pan
Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
Kensington Gardens

By Rodrigo Fresan, translated by Natasha Wimmer
Faber and Faber, 384 pp, 24.95 dollars

The 100th anniversary of the first performance of Peter Pan has brought renewed life to James Barrie's personification of youthful spirit. There has been a new film version of the play and even a movie made about how the diminutive Scotsman was inspired to write his most famous work. None view the story through a darker glass than Kensington Gardens.

Argentine expatriate novelist Rodrigo Fresan weaves an inventive double helix of literary DNA, intertwining a fictionalized biography of Barrie, the most successful dramatist and author of the Victorian era, with a first-person account of the life of Peter Hook, a fictional children's novelist who has stepped over the edge of reason and into a Neverland of his own creation.

A sort of ying-yang duality lies at the core of the novel, with each element of Barrie's life story having its counterpart, in some cases a funhouse mirror reflection, in Hook's life.

The son of an iconic swinging '60s rock star couple, Hook grows up on a posh estate called, a bit too obviously, Neverland. His parents, the children of wealthy aristocrats, are the nucleus of a rock band called the Beaten Victorians--a sort of anti-Beatles who lament the loss of traditional British values while still embracing the psychedelic scene.

Like Barrie, Hook loses a much loved brother and is neglected and unloved by his parents. While Barrie's mother shut herself up in her room after the death of Barrie's elder brother, Hook's grief-maddened mother dies in Peter Hook's arms singing the chorus of her hit single "You're Not Mine" to her young son after biting off his earlobe.

Unlike Barrie, who stayed childlike in many ways throughout his life, Hook becomes a hardened, cynical adult almost overnight after taking LSD in Kensington Park as a young child.

Hook grows up to become the J.K. Rowling of his world, penning a long-running series of best-selling children's novels starring Jim Yang and his time-traveling bicycle. While Peter Pan is the boy who refuses to grow up, Yang's time-traveling leaves him unable to do so. Fresan makes clear that in as much as Barrie's Peter Pan was inspired by and modeled on the Llewelyn-Davies brothers, Yang is very much Hook's literary alter ego.

Hook tells the story of his life, intermingled with Barrie's, to Keiko Kai, a Japanese child actor cast to play the part of Yang in the first movie based on Hook's work. Hook has kidnapped the young thespian and has sinister plans to wreck his own reputation and try to destroy the "virus" of children's literature forever:

"I was infected; and terminally ill, I consecrated myself to the virus--literature--whose mission, hardly secret at all, is to kill reality and annihilate childhood, supplanting and improving both as much as possible until they've become immortal stories that will never grow old."

Fresan, like Barrie and Hook, understands that children are not innocents in the sentimental, blameless way that adults generally portray and imagine them, but only unknowing or perhaps unconcerned with the consequences of their actions, whether noble or brutal. Pedaling back and forth in time like Yang, Hook, propelled by Fresan's often surrealistic descriptions and energetic, magic-realism tinged storytelling takes his young prisoner well beyond the "second star to the right and straight on 'til morning."

Kensington Gardens is a fascinating, dark and yet whimsical meditation on the nature of childhood, fantasy, neglect and imagination.

(Sep. 18, 2005)