Dann Downes
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Dann Downes

Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada | INDIE | AFM

Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada | INDIE | AFM
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"Music Review: Dann Downes - New Wolf At The Door by Bob Mersereau"

Music Review: Dann Downes - New Wolf At The Door

August 8, 2011 10:33 PM

The term singer-songwriter requires a little explanation. Literally, every performer who write their own material is one. However, we don't describe the lead singer and songwriter of a hair-metal band as a singer-songwriter. This loaded description is used by writers and fans to separate out the more artistic writers, who try to mix sophisticated wordplay with melodic folk-rock or country-rock material. You know, all the sons and daughters of Bob Dylan. Lyle Lovett, he's one. Rosanne Cash, John Hiatt, Loudon Wainwright III, Sarah Harmer. We don't usually call a member of a band a singer-songwriter. Like every other somewhat silly term in pop music (pop music being one of them), there are no hard and fast rules, it's more code, assuming the reader or listener or fan will know what is meant when it's used.

So, assuming we're all cool with the word, I'd say Saint John's Dann Downes is a pretty good singer-songwriter. On his new one, New Wolf At The Door, there are a whole bunch of stand-out moments where I found my ears perk up and my head bob with the appropriate "nice one" acknowledgment. Now, Downes has his own way of describing his style, which also works: He calls it a "local and idiosyncratic brand of roots and Northamericana music". I like that, because I also hear some particular Canadian sounds on the disc, reminding me of Lennie Gallant and Ian Tyson, for instance. As for distinctly local, there aren't many referencing the mysterious Eastern Cougar in their tunes. "Nice one," he said, head bobbing.

Downes is part of the nifty and building scene in Saint John that also features Mike Biggar, Babette Hayward, Grant Heckman and the acts playing at the Blue Olive club. His previous album as one-half of The Shaggy Dogs was strong, but this one shows Downes with a full vision of his sound. There's smooth and funky lead guitar by the man himself, a solid groove throughout, and above all, interesting stories to sit back with. And that, my friends, is what I like to call a singer-songwriter album. - Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)


"Saint John Musician Dann Downes Records A Brand New Solo CD"

Dann Downes tells us about his newly released solo CD, entitled New Wolf at the Door. He's launching it at the Bourbon Quarter a week from today. - CBC Radio


"Saint John Singer Learning to Hear Again"

When Dann Downes, 51, is surrounded by sound, his head fills with white noise. It is as if a giant seashell is being held to his ear against his will, he said. Perhaps it is surprising, then, that he still works as a musician.

Saint John musician Dann Downes recently released his new album, 'New Wolf at the Door.'

About a year-and-a-half ago, Downes became ill and was bedridden for weeks. He came out of the experience alive, but lost the hearing in his right ear. He was no longer able to decipher depth from sounds. A few months later, he found out the hearing loss was permanent.

For a musician who regularly depended on his ears to keep time with his band, Downes said it was certainly an adjustment.

"I wasn't sure if I could play," he said.

While he can't always hear very well these days, he still sings in tune. He began playing solo gigs, something he hadn't done since high school. He started writing songs and working on a record with his friend and musical colleague of 11 years, Grant Heckman.

The eventual album, New Wolf at the Door, was officially released April 27.

"In many ways, making the record was my therapy. I was learning how to hear again."

Downes grew up in Scarborough, Ont., in a working-class suburb that marked the end of a bus line. Before moving to Saint John to teach at the University of New Brunswick in 2001, he got his Ph.D in communications at McGill University. He's been playing music for 30 years.

"Sound has been the thing that I've been most interested in ... forever," he said. "(My partial hearing loss) was like this cosmic 'now what?' "

He said a lot of the songs on the CD address coming to terms with where you are in life and making choices.

His music has been described as "East Coast with a kick," but he prefers the term he invented himself - "North-Americana." A bluesy, folk-inspired sound with a touch of rockabilly, he said it mixes in some of America's biggest contributions to music, while maintaining solid Canadian roots.

Downes has played at Saint John's Salty Jam, opening for New Brunswick blues master Matt Andersen, and will be playing all around the Maritimes through July and August.

"I'm lucky because I can still do everything that I did," he said.

It's just that his audience might be able to hear his music a bit better than he can. - Telegraph-Journal


"Dann Downes puts stories to music"

By Paula White

The Shaggy Dogs … have been making a name for themselves on the Maritime music scene over the past few years. That’s because it’s a partnership that works. Both men are strong musically and vocally, producing a unique blend of roots, alt country, folk and blues, and both are strong songwriters as well, their writing insightful and beautiful. - KV Style April 20, 2007


"New Brunswick duo gives musical twist to the old shaggy dog tale"

By Chris Morris

SAINT JOHN, N.B. (CP) - This is a shaggy dog tale with a musical twist.

A shaggy dog story is a long and frequently boring tale, but two New Brunswick university teachers who call themselves the Shaggy Dogs are creating excitement in the Maritime music scene with their cool mix of blues and folk.

Grant Heckman and Dann Downes teach at the Saint John campus of the University of New Brunswick, but outside the halls of academe they kick back with their guitars and produce an innovative mix of blues, roots, country and light rock that has people taking notice.

Heckman, a writing tutor, and Downes, a communications and popular music instructor, have been singing together for almost four years. They recently released their first CD, "One Runs at Midnight," made up mostly of their own songs.

"Our music is accessible to just about everybody," says Heckman, who produced the CD.

"If we were doing hard-core punk or industrial rock we would be narrowing our constituency. But our songs come out of folk songs, traditional music and songwriters in that tradition like Dylan, Tom Waits, Lucinda Williams."

Although the Shaggy Dogs are a Saint John band, both Downes and Heckman are originally from Ontario.

The two middle-aged professors have been singing and performing most of their lives and both have impressive music credentials.

Heckman, who spent years leading various blues projects in Kingston, Ont., has recorded several CDs and produced a number of recordings, including the Juno-nominated "Rites of Passage" by Georgette Fry.

He also once backed a young Avril Lavigne when she was still a country singer.

Downes was a regular on the Queen Street scene in Toronto during the 1980s as a lead guitarist and singer-songwriter in bands such as Company Town and Conditioned Response.

In recent years, he has focused increasingly on songwriting in the roots and country tradition.

The two have been playing at Maritime venues for several years, and Downes admits they have starting telling their students about their performances.

"For a long time, I was sort of in the closet as a musician," Downes says.

"In the end my mother was right, 'Get a good day job'- and being a university professor is a good day job. I'm very lucky I teach communications and popular music. . . . What I do professionally and what I do musically kind of merge. This fall I stopped trying to keep them separate. I don't force my students to come, but I let them know about the shows."

The two also get support from other professors at the university, including the dean of arts, who is a drummer.

"We've been very fortunate," says Downes. "We've had a lot of support from family and friends in the local music scene."

Downes says the Maritime music scene is vibrant these days, crammed with all kinds of musicians both amateur and professional.

However, he says it still has not developed to the point where most people can make a comfortable living from their music.

"The pressure of having to play a road house because you need the money isn't there for us," says Downes. "We're lucky. We're doing what we have always wanted to do." - Canadian Press (CP)


"Review of "One Runs At Midnight""

Two fine singers, two fine songwriters . . . always a sweet string mix comin’ at ya . . . no mongrels among them: these puppies bring their scholarly breeding to the lyric sheet too, with thoughtful words—even a Samuel Beckett reference. Fetch the fine new disc from the Shaggy Dogs.

Bob Mersereau, CBC radio
- CBC radio September 20, 2006


"The Shaggy Dogs: N.B.’s Diamonds in the Ruff"

By Nelson Hansen

"Music for grown-ups." That's how Shaggy Dogs co-founder Dann Downes describes the music on One Runs at Midnight, the first CD from the Saint John-based partnership between Downes and fellow songwriter Grant Heckman.

Like most good bands, the Shaggy Dogs were formed almost by accident while taking part in the regular Thursday night open mic sessions at Sessions Cafe in Quispamsis. The cafe's owner had suggested that Downes and Heckman take advantage of their unique roots sound and work together as a duo on a Sunday gig. And so the Shaggy Dogs were born.

Both lifelong musicians, the duo hold a mutual respect for roots-based music that is the bond that unites their two unique approaches to songwriting. One Runs at Midnight is a tight collection of 13 original songs plus a reworking of a rare Muddy Waters track. The disc is a reflection of Grant Heckman's abilities and sensibilities as a blues artist and Dann Downes's devotion to roots and alt country. For a debut recording, One Runs at Midnight covers a fair amount of territory. The blues/country mix recalls echoes of The Byrds, Tom Petty and Gram Parsons while maintaining an original sound that doesn't stray from the band's Port City roots.

The roots sound was important to the band, and Heckman, who also handled the disc's production, refused to compromise when it came to recording. "I wanted a Hammond B3 organ for the disc, not a synthesizer pre-set, so we went to considerable effort and expense to get that sound." For Heckman, this meant travelling to Kingston, Ontario to record organ tracks. The devotion doesn't end at the keyboards, as vintage guitars and amplifiers are easily identifiable to the trained ear; the sound is as authentic as one would expect from a recording by John Hiatt or Ry Cooder.

The songs on this disc are well crafted, honest and believable. They are also familiar after the first listen. The pair's considerable experience as working musicians and songwriters is evident. Presently the band works the majority of their shows as a duo, adding bass and drums when necessary to capture the sound of the disc.

The disc is the first step in the Shaggy Dogs growing a following and a reputation as one of Atlantic Canada's better acts. Dann Downes explains the band’s "baby steps" approach. "We're building a following locally with the CD. We want to be known as a regional band and not just a Saint John band. We would like to get more gigs and work festivals over the summer. We'll remain an indie act because that's where the industry is going. Besides, we have no illusions of playing Harbour Station. The goal is to put good music out and make good CDs." That and to play more live shows. The Shaggy Dogs have seen bookings increase since the inception of the band and will use the CD as a way to get more work, with one of the goals being a regularly monthly house spot at a local bar to ensure status as a "can't miss" act on the local scene.

One Runs at Midnight has been out for just over a week now and can be purchased online or in Saint John at Backstreet Records. The duo plan to have an official CD release party in November and will bring the full band as well as a complement of musical friends to share in the celebration.

Many New Brunswickers have yet to hear from this talented Saint John duo but owe it to themselves to take a listen. Like fellow NB'ers Hot Toddy, the Shaggy Dogs have the potential to build a career based on musical integrity and darn good songs.
- (HERE Magazine, Volune 7, Number 39, Sept.28-Oct.4, 2006, p. 19)


"Pop Culture Professionals"

Pop culture professionals

Students taking a class on pop culture from Dr. Dann Downes get more than just a lecture -they get a firsthand view of the life of a musician.

Downes, the coordinator for the Information and Communication Studies (ICS) program at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John, is also half of Heckman Downes, an acoustic duo drawing influence from roots, blues and bluegrass music.
He's joined by Grant Heckman, a consultant with the UNB Saint John Writing Centre. The two share the duties of singer-songwriter, accompanying their tunes with acoustic and slide guitar, as well as banjo.

Heckman and Downes have been playing music for years: Heckman has been playing with the same band from his high school since 1973, and Downes spent the 1980s playing the Queen Street circuit in Toronto.

The duo -formerly known as the Shaggy Dogs -are currently working on the follow-up to their 2006 album One Runs at Midnight. They'll be debuting some of their new songs this weekend at the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival in Fredericton.
One of the great things about playing a festival like Harvest, says Heckman, is that everyone is there to experience great music.

"It's a music immersion event. You walk from place to place and music's fading in and out," he says. "Everyone wandering the streets is into it; people are there because they want to hear music. There are a lot of musicians around, and it's interesting and fun to hear good things and play good things."

No stranger to the stage
Heckman, who worked in the Toronto publishing industry for years, has writing at heart: he's had poetry published in Canadian literary magazines, and co-wrote a musical with playwright Jim Garrard called Sir John, Eh?, which was nominated for a Dora award in the late 90s.

"Now," he says, "I've moved over to songwriting. That's what I've been doing lately -I have several CDs of my own songs."

Downes played music in Toronto for close to 10 years before he went back to school. Originally having studied radio and television, he found a new love in studying communications.

"I was an arts major, and I was about three weeks into being back at school. I had that strange student moment where I said, ‘yeah, I want to do more of these courses,'" he says. "I had an ‘aha' moment in that communications class; something in the world made sense to me about studying the media."

Downes -a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, author of one book and co-editor of another -focuses his research on issues like intellectual property and the media.

While culture and the media didn't seem as academically important in the past, "since the Internet," he says, "old media and new media and the effects they have on society are so much of a part of our everyday lives. That interest I had in media as a student allowed me to see connections in the world that maybe other people don't."

Studying information and communication, says Downes, allows students to be critical of what they see and consume.
"Think of it like art school or film school," he says. "I've had experience in radio and television, and I'm a musician -so when I'm teaching pop, I'm teaching not just as academic, but as someone who understands craft of that cultural industry. That allows students to respond to what they see on more than one level. "

Downes says that his studies as an academic on such issues as intellectual property, culture and the Internet, combined with his work as a musician, reinforce to students that they can do serious things with their interests in popular culture and the media.

"And if you're lucky like I was, you can have a job that's incredibly fun."

Heckman Downes are scheduled to play two shows this weekend at the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival in Fredericton. They'll be playing free concerts at JDI stage on Friday, Sept. 18 at 6:30 p.m. and Saturday, Sept. 19 at 6:30 p.m. They'll also serve as the backing band for Galaxie Rising Star-nominated artist Babette Hayward on Friday afternoon at Dolan's Pub
- University of New Brunswick


Discography

"One Runs at Midnight" (The Shaggy Dogs, 2006). Songs Branded, Hard Country and Wandering Boy received airplay in Canada on CBC radio.
"Sweet Mary Had a Baby" on A Very Vintage Christmas (one song as Heckman Downes, 2009).
"New Wolf at the Door" (Dann Downes, 2011).

Photos

Bio

Nominated for Male Recording Artist and Folk Recording of the year by the Music NB Awards, Dann Downes is a musician, broadcaster and academic who was part of the new country movement in Toronto during the 1980s as a lead guitarist and singer-songwriter in bands such as Company Town and Conditioned Response.

For over twenty years Dann has written and performed in the roots/americana tradition. He calls his music “moody, contemporary mountain music.” His haunting vocals been compared to Ian Tyson and Lennie Gallant and Warren Zevon. He has been a Galaxie Rising Star finalist (NB) and a regional finalist (NB) of the International Blues Challenge.

Building on a reputation as a member of the band The Shaggy Dogs, roots duo Heckman-Downes, guitarist with Jay Semko, Babette Heyward, Mike Biggar and others, Dann began a solo career in 2009.

His first solo record was released last year and garnered Music New Brunswick award nominations for folk recording and male artist of the year.

Dann has played from Newfoundland to Ontario and has appeared in festivals such as the Acoustic Music Festival in NS, Salty Jam in Saint John and the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival in Fredericton, NB.

Dann’s Discography includes: "One Runs at Midnight" (The Shaggy Dogs, 2006), "A Very Vintage Christmas" (One Song, 2009), Mike Biggar's "The Season" (2010) and the current "New Wolf at the Door" (2011).

Reviewing One Runs at Midnight , Bob Mersereau calls Dann and Grant, “Two fine singers, two fine songwriters.” Nelson Hansen, writing in Here magazine, wrote, “The songs on [One Runs at Midnight] are well crafted, honest and believable.”

When not recording or playing live, Dann teaches Communication Studies at the University of New Brunswick at Saint John. Dann is the author of the book Interactive Realism. He is also a great fan and supporter of sons Gavin and Avery's bands Tunnels and Learning.

Visit Dann at: danndownes.ca Contact: JLibertyartists@aol.com