Jon Epworth
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Jon Epworth

Kingston, Ontario, Canada | INDIE

Kingston, Ontario, Canada | INDIE
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"Failure Epics (review)"

Failure Epics is the progressive rock debut from Canadian singer-songwriter Jon Epworth. Citing Yes and King Crimson as influences, Epworth creates tunes that are heavy on the de rigueur prog dynamics—plenty of warm guitar flourishes, a nice shiny finish and a few sumptuous, multidimensional jams. Failure Epics is a primarily solo undertaking, which Epworth composed, performed and produced, with some additional help on the horns and backing vocals from Don Murray and Chris Fudge, respectively.
Not only is Failure Epics an ambitious venture in musical terms, Epworth also goes all out on the narrative front; why not, it’s prog after all. The album is built around an overarching and notably grim account of the “maculate conception” of a new species. “sons of asbestos and daughters of pvc/ children of alloy/ the product of disease,“—an allegory that Epworth uses to tackle the plight of animals, the oppression of women and destruction of the environment, three issues he sees as being manifestly interlinked.
There’s an awful lot to try to connect in terms of lyrical and musical vision, and Epworth does a commendable job of matching the sonic attributes to the storyboard. You can’t mistake the influence of Porcupine Tree’s early years in the momentum and structure of many tracks. That same pristine rendering of European-inspired melodic prog runs throughout. With passages that shift from minimal to maximal in a heartbeat, and the layering on of distinctive jazzy touches, the pulse of sophisticated neo-prog also looms large.
Opener “Clear Eyes” tumbles forth on a darkened undercurrent—awash in shimmery guitars, with touches of horns pushing beautifully through the haze. “Soothsayer” brings the Frippian tendencies to the fore, with a set of interweaving riffs that work up to a rolling crescendo flecked with atonality (and damn fine saxophone soloing to boot). The following track, “A Reflection”, is just that: a moody piano threnody that drifts into flourishing classical territories.
Each of those first three tracks approaches progressive rock from a different angle—the pensive, the eccentric, and the minimalist—but they are just a warm-up for the rousing delights of “We Are Men”. An 11-minute epic set around some fantastic interplay between bass, keys, guitar and percussion, this track is the album’s genuine highlight. The line “Bang our heads against the sound of this chaotic disorder” conveys exactly what’s in store. Epworth’s soulful vocals set a melancholic mood. His phrasing perfectly matches the oscillating nature of the tune, and playing around with odd timings he’s not remotely afraid to attack the sweeter harmonies with some splintering dissonance. It’s brilliant—a progged-out romp that illustrates the flawless coalescence of Epworth’s vision and tenor.
“Riverbend pt. 1? and “Riverbend pt. 2? finish things up (at least digitally; there’s an extra track on the vinyl). The former is a folksy strum that seems like an anomaly following on from such a storming track, but it’s poignant and infused with plenty of moody emotionality. “Riverbend pt. 2? terminates proceedings with some cacophonous metal, as flurries of math-rock riffs swarm over Floyd-like and psych-worthy atmospherics. It brings to mind the avant-jazz assault of Norway’s Shining.
There are traces of familiar classic and contemporary prog bands to be found throughout the album, and Epworth’s assertion that he’s a “Yes-obsessed misanthrope” is in no doubt. But that’s not to say his own voice is unoriginal. While Failure Epics is by no means Epworth’s first album, it represents his first foray into the world of prog, and there’s something genuinely admirable about an artist willing to put himself to the test on debut. He’s taken a bold step in tackling a genre so replete with concept suites, but he’s managed to balance his extravagant visualizations and his determination as a multi-instrumentalist with a prudent sense of restraint.
Failure Epics is 36 minutes of astute prog, all wrapped in a glistening chrysalis of intrepid ideas and aspirations. It’s a grower—the more you listen, the more you discover, and that seals its credentials as a grand prog debut. - Six Noises (New Zealand)


"Soul Mange (review)"

“Are you scared of the future, are you scared of time?” The Canadian singer and multi-instrumentalist Jon Epworth digs deep on an EP of extreme soul rock, dredging up a poignant suicidal dream (on the title track, where harrowing aspirations are laid out beautifully on a Stax-style ballad), profound darkness and fear. Don’t Hold Water is church-hall Black Crowes uplift. Happening pits Sam Roberts against Chris Cornell and his black-holed sun. Strong stuff all around – ninnies need not apply." - Brad Wheeler/Globe and Mail - Globe and Mail


"Halifax Pop Explosion"

Stepping in at the last minute for cancelled Stars side-project Memphis, [Epworth] brought meaty and meandering rock music, both optimistic and solid. Epworth has a great rock voice and his on-stage manner is relaxed and friendly. At times, he and his band recalled the machinegun tunes of Matt Good, but without the sneered socio-political angst. If there was such a thing as rock radio with imagination these days, would we be hearing his songs blasting out of car windows? No doubt. - Exclaim!


"Ottawa, 2006"

My first impression of Jon Epworth and The Improvements, after listening to the bouncy anti-war ditty Please Stop Celebrating, was that they would have fit great on a bill with Ted Leo and The Pharmacists. The other stuff on their excellent CD Wet On Wet - purchased directly after their set - isn't quite so early-Elvis Costello-ish. It's just as issue-oriented, though not in a way that makes you feel you're being bludgeoned by one man's opinion. Musically though, there's a bit more going on, with post-'77 alternative and indie rock making a stronger showing. Live the group is ace. That was definitely one of the better sets I've seen this year. Pity it was a bit short. Definitely a must-see when they roll through your town.
- National Capital Rock


"Wet on Wet (from feature article)"

"...a stellar sophomore solo effort.. musically and production-wise it's extremely attractive for the listener, but Epworth likes to make his audience work for it. His lyrics can be harshly descriptive and he doesn't hesitate to throw in unconventional elements, ones that ultimately make the song much more satisfying... Epworth sounds fully in command on the album. There are some heavy Elvis Costello influences, strong songwriting, and fantastic production." - The Coast


"Wet on Wet (review)"

"HRM's unsung pawn-shop guitar hero is back with a fistful of raw, raunchy rock'n'roll riffs that will satisfy both new listeners and old fans alike. Great production by Laurence Currie captures the fury and power of "fifteen minutes of fame, twenty-nine years of anguish". The Improvements get it done right, helping Epworth make the jump from angst to anger and establishing him as one to watch in the coming months." - Halifax Daily News


"Wet on Wet (review)"

"Bounding out of the East, Jon Epworth cuts a mean path with this assured disc that has many outstanding moments of rock. It is fun, expertly done and inspires hapless joy in its handclaps and choruses, like on "The Body", and even blows the speakers as on the spectacular closer, "Gone". All of the above seems somewhat needless when this album could be encapsulated in two, albeit cliche, words: it rocks." - Exclaim!


"MM/DD/YY (album review)"

"This is a fucking great album. On his debut solo CD, Jon Epworth turns in an album showing huge ability both as a pop songsmith and a talented performer. This is one of the few albums that has managed to both capitalize on the Halifax sound while still sounding vibrant and new" - Exclaim!


"Turn Off Your Name (review)"

“The drunks in front can yell that I'm the greatest/ I'll just
stay at home, if that's what fame is." Cheer Jon Epworth if you will – his album of
thoughtful alt-rock, progressive pop and piano-driven rock-and-soul is absolutely vital –
but the Halifax/Toronto music man isn't in it for back-slaps and marquees. This poetic
small-cogger, who at times who recalls the drama of Rufus Wainwright or the 10-fingered
sensibilities of Elton John, is under no grand illusion – on the softly affecting Passing
Chords he asks only to be considered. He's against self-pity (on the brashly motivational
The Driven ) and fat egos and “dance hall irrelevance." I could tell him that Long Way
Down would have been a radio hit in the seventies, but he probably wouldn't care much.
Who is this guy, anyway?
- Globe and Mail


"Turn Off Your Name (review)"

WHEN HE LEFT FOR Toronto two years ago, singer-songwriter Jon Epworth was known for his stint in the Halifax
punk trio the Dean Malenkos as well as some impressive solo work backed up by his band the Improvements injected
with the nervy new wave energy of musicians like Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson.
But he returns home this weekend for the launch of his new CD Turn Off Your Name at the Paragon Theatre on Friday
night a changed man, with a markedly different sound inspired by soul, folk and progressive rock and deeply
introspective and poetic themes.
"Gotta grow up, cool down, get with it/Dig deeper, stand harder and mean it!" Epworth wails on The Driven, channelling
the spirit of Stevie Wonder, and it sounds like he does mean it, as he taps a well of rage, guilt and ultimately
understanding on a record that scales lofty peaks of self-realization as well as plumbing the depths of self-doubt.
Epworth’s songs have been dramatic in the past, his last CD Wet Wet Wet is full of impassioned performances, but Turn Off Your Name takes the drama to an unheard of level, finally exploding in the horn-laced manifesto of Post-It Note.
In a desire to reduce his carbon footprint, Epworth is making Turn Off Your Name a download-only release, available
from iTunes, eMusic, his website at www.jonepworth.com or at shows where you can buy a $10 download code that als
entitles you to a second album due out sometime in August. Check out the samples posted at myspace.com/jonepworth
- Halifax Chronicle Herald


Discography

Failure Epics - 2012
Soul Mange - 2011
Turn Off Your Name - 2009
Wet On Wet - 2006
Two Sessions - 2005
MM/DD/YY - 2003

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Bio

In the studio I tend to do everything myself. When I play live I usually get some jazz players to back me up. Not that I would classify what I write as jazz; but I find that players with that background really embrace and fully encapsulate the sound I'm going for, which, for lack of a better term, could be called psych rock n' soul. More recent influences would be Raphael Saadiq, The Dap Kings, Queens of the Stone Age, Black Mountain, Radiohead, Mastadon.

I'm a drummer at heart, so almost everything I write has a very groove-oriented approach, albeit in 5/4 or 6/8. Even when I'm feeling like a challenge, I always try and wrap it around something that you can't help but nod your head to. My singing has always been influenced by Stax and Motown era soul singers, but I guess I throw a bit of southern rock in there for good measure.

For about 7 years I was a drummer and vocalist in a Toy Dolls-esque punk band (The Dean Malenkos), and have been writing and recording tapes and cds on my own since '93. I've produced several independent albums for bands in the Maritime Provinces (Hope, Glory Glory Man United) and have toured throughout Canada. I have received multiple composition grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, and have released two albums of new material since December of 2011.