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Arts and Culture

Like a Church Bell

Holcombe Waller's voice is a holy instrument.

By Thom Wong 5 Apr 2012 | TheTyee.ca

Thom Wong writes regularly about music for The Tyee. He can also be found ruminating about the state of menswear at The Sunday Best.

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Holcombe Waller, clearly related to Fats.

I've made it a bit of a habit to not arrive at a show until I think the main act is almost on stage. For someone who, ostensibly, has a sincere interest in discovering new music, this is a pretty stupid thing to do. If a show has an opening act, and it's not being held in a stadium, chances are it will be a band I've never heard of and was unlikely to have gone to see. Skipping them is like claiming to be interested in food, but ignoring all appetizers and desserts on my way to a giant plate of spaghetti.

And so it was that at The Magnetic Fields concert a couple of weeks ago, I arrived almost too late to catch the opening set by Holcombe Waller & the Healers. What drew me in and forced me into a seat was Waller's voice, a startlingly clear instrument that he was throwing around the Vogue like a church bell (I'm pretty sure that's not how you use a church bell, but that's what it felt like.) When I later learned he is actively engaged in musical theatre, his command of the stage made perfect sense.

At the time, though, I only knew Waller through that voice, and his accompanists on cello, violin, and guitar or piano, who didn't seem so much a part of the songs as a frame for Waller to play in. While entirely capable on his own guitar, Waller's real instrument is his voice, and this is nowhere as clear as on his cover of Buffy St. Marie's "Qu'appelle Valley, Saskatchewan," a song he introduced like one would an old and dear friend.

I'm not going to say Waller sings it better than the original, but he definitely sings it more -- the notes rose effortlessly from out of his entire body and hung against the ceiling like light off a candle. In fact, it's not inaccurate to describe his rendition as religious, or holy, so full was it of reverence for the source material and the power of music in general.

For an entirely different sound, try "Hardliners," a song that sounds plucked right from Broadway. If this scares you away, I have one word for you -- maracas.  [Tyee]

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