Fergus Hambleton is a quiet, almost shy person in life—but on stage and in the studio he has cultivated a persona that has earned him the kind of fandom that can’t be purchased with a tweet or a click-bait headline fanned across Facebook.
Toronto music fans with long memories remember him from his sultry sets at the Bamboo on Queen with his infectiously rhythmic Sattalites reggae ensemble that now fills a regular weekly spot at the Orbit Room on College.
Tonight, at Hugh’s Room Live, he launches his wildest, most elaborate musical adventure yet with an 11-piece horns, strings and a whole lot more orchestral ensemble that births the release of his latest album.
He’s called it Neighbourhoods, a title that is more a reflection of his studied affection for a city he was born and raised in than a description of what he is playing these days.
And what he is playing these days is quite extraordinary in its defiance of today's pop music trends.
It’s the kind of album that musicians used to make because they loved getting together to create music.
There’s no songwriting camp material found here, no pandering to political persuasions or even a particular plan of action to make Neighbourhoods the best new thing.
And that’s the beauty of it.
It is so different, so spectacularly sumptuous in its delivery, so damned enjoyable to listen to that it stands out for anyone who cares to discover it. It’s like iced tea with an orange slice and a sprig of mint on a steamy hot summer day.
It is also very much a throwback to pop's golden days long passed.
The album is chock full of songs that are as romantic as the eras they tease. It’s cabaret; it’s café music, John Renbourn, Bert Jansch, Nick Drake, Hank Marvin, Scott Walker, Jethro Tull, Sweet Baby James; a cornucopia of beautifully written songs performed by a spitfire band recorded under the attentive watch of producer Vezi Tayyeb at Kensington Sound.
Of course, this isn’t just a wild ride into the sunset. Hambleton’s put a lot of coin and spit into making what may be his last hurrah. There is a single, being worked by Current Records’ Gerry Young, entitled Summertime Fun. Pulling in favours, and there were many involved in the making of this DIY masterpiece, includes having Terry Brown give the track a bright, shiny mix, and the result dances across the speakers.
In days of old, certain albums were flagged for their sonic quality that attracted hi-fi enthusiasts with hi-end stereo systems. This album fits the bill.
Tonight’s show features Hambleton with his big band, and he’s opening the evening with an acoustic set featuring three backup singers performing songs he’s recorded over the years.
Tickets at the door are priced at $35, an entry fee that he points out runs to just over three-dollars per musician. By any standard, that’s one heck of a deal.
And here are several other songs from the album.