“That’s why we play the game.”
That forced sports metaphor is probably the best lede I can come up with for Drew Gonsalves’ modern take on an art form that most agree reached it’s high water mark in the ’50s.
Kobo Town is an underdog story, not because of talent, but as a result of the hurdles the band must overcome just to get heard. Calypso music is stuck in a time capsule, with even devout fans opting to embrace the pioneers that drove the sound instead of those trying to replicate it today. The fact the band features a Trinidadian griot that has lived in Toronto for most of his adult life is just another reason the skepticism starts to weigh on would be listeners.
But Drew, with considerable support from a talented band and producer Ivan Duran, is a more than capable story teller and pays homage to calypso music without allowing his songs to settle for a tried and true recipe. Fusing traditional calypso sounds with a pop (and at times, a dancehall) feel, Jumbie in the Jukebox attempt to push the envelope and reinvigorate calypso music.
The infectious melodies Kobo Town offers will make this LP a Summer staple for anyone that listens, but there is depth that makes Jumbie in the Jukebox a much more lasting effort. Gonsalves creates charismatic characters and tackles political issues without weighing down the loose, fluid backing grooves. The real gold to be mined here is how much like Simone Schmidt, Gonsalves refuses to rely on trademark imagery or overused metaphors. His songs are fresh looks at today’s society that pair nicely with any of the traditional sounds Kobo Town bend and morph. Even when he revisits the towns that shaped his musical vision, it’s a refreshing look through one man’s eyes instead of the postcard view we’ve come to expect.
This record marks yet another chance for Canada to embrace and celebrate records that fall outside of our folk and indie rock comfort zones. We’ve often offered large pop records to the masses that reside in the US, but Jumbie in the Jukebox is receiving International acclaim and deserves equal attention here within our borders. I’m guessing a Polaris short list nod would do the trick.