There are two types of performers who sometimes appear on the WSO Pops stage: those who are skillfully polite, almost phoning their songs and sprinkling their sets with those required âWinterpegâ jokes; and local bards firmly rooted in the prairie loam, keenly aware of the community that shaped them, while singing with their hearts and guts.
Don Amero, a three-time JUNO nominee of Cree and MÃ©tis descent from Winnipeg’s historic North End, is part of the latter camp; with three weekend performances led by WSO Associate Conductor Julian Pellicano through Sunday.
Following the fall opening of Godfrey Ridout’s “Fall Fair”, the country and folk singer / songwriter / guitarist took to the stage on Friday night with his Manitoba “guys” Dylan MacDonald, guitar, John Baron, bass and percussionist. Daniel Roy will perform one of the evening’s first highlights: âWash Away,â arranged by Winnipeg-born jazz pianist and composer Mike Janzen.
Amero, who now has 20 albums to his credit, is also regarded for his advocacy work within Indigenous communities and beyond, most notably as a youth mentor for the Winnipeg Jets and âProject 11â in Winnipeg. the True North Youth Foundation.
His innate skills as a storyteller – including sharing how he performed a powerfully moving rendition of “O Canada” for a Jets game just days after the shocking discovery of 215 anonymous indigenous graves in Kamloops, Colombia -British – not only allowed him to fully engage with the mixed crowd of 373, but frames each song with often candid and deeply personal revelations about his âall kinds of crazyâ upbringing, family life, love and his faith.
One song stood out in particular: “Isabel’s Song (Going Home)”, written as an imaginary love letter to his wife from his “stepfather”, who died suddenly while running an errand, leaving no chance to say goodbye to him – a powerful and timely song evoking the surf of goodbyes never said to loved ones locked up during the pandemic.
Other highlights include âTwilight Hour,â showing more of Amero’s smooth, creamy vocals, and âGive it to Youâ showing even more country twang. “On Down the Road”, a bluesier tune prefaced by Amero’s powerful “message of hope” and “We are One”, a true hymn to reconciliation in Canada with its dark residential school heritage, quickly became a hit. other, receiving the loudest cheers of the night and even causing a loud “I love this song!” a fan in the house.
The second half – yes, the intermissions are back – opened with “Akasha” by Glenn Buhr, translated from Sanskrit for “sky”, with Pellicano setting a brisk pace with a fiery ostinato glockenspiel proving too much of a good thing. . Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkryies” became another offering reserved for the orchestra, chosen by Amero as one of his wife’s favorite classics, and spied by tapping his foot while still on stage, clearly fascinated. by the sound of his “65-piece support group”. . ”
But he also wowed with his humor and self-deprecating spirit, joking “Did I do right?” to Pellicano after delivering “You Can’t Always Be 21”, and even sheepishly grateful for forgetting the lyrics on the series’ penultimate “Gonna Be a Good Day”, sung for his wife and their three children aged 9, 6 and 2. attend this Sunday.
The admittedly skinny audience rose up at the end of the program, leading to a reminder of “Amazing Grace,” which Amero dedicated to his late bluegrass-loving father, with the a cappella vocal harmonies of the flesh-giving singers. of chicken.
More of these intimate, up-close and personal selections would have been welcome, with the program sometimes feeling too cohesive and requiring texture – perhaps stand-alone solos, dedicated instrumental works or more a cappella numbers. There were also several balance issues – you want to catch every syllable in “Wouldn’t Be Home” – and Amero and his rock solid musicians often fell into dark shadows without adequate stage lighting.
Nonetheless, Amero holds his rightful place in the proud Manitoban line of internationally renowned singer-songwriters that also includes Bell, Janzen, Christine Fellows and John K. Samson, and many moons before that, Loreena McKennitt, between others. With his first full WSO show, he had a moment to shine with the orchestra, as bright as those stars we heard about in his nature-inspired final offering, “Church,” written by Nashville’s Ashley Gorley, Matt Jenkins and Lindsey Hillary, and described as “a song that will grow old with me”.
The show repeats in person as well as by live broadcast at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday and continues through Sunday at 2 p.m. For tickets or more information visit: wso.ca