Port Cities
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Port Cities

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada | Established. Jan 01, 2014 | INDIE

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2014
Band Pop Singer/Songwriter

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“Dylan Guthro is the real deal. He’s a fine songwriter, writing with a maturity that at times seems beyond his years.” -


“Lead track Thinkin’ is a bouncy acoustic one, and not far off the David Myles style. There are strong ballads, not soppy but instead with some guts behind them, some drama, both in words and music. That includes excellent strings running through the album, really powerful orchestration. Then you have some pop rockers, uptempo numbers that could very well find the radio charts this year.” -


“A thoughtful and fun collection of songs, full of sly observations and polished guitar skills.” -


By Sarah Murphy, Exclaim!

Port Cities join together the Cape Breton songwriting trio of Carleton Stone, Breagh MacKinnon and Dylan Guthro, and the band are readying their self-titled debut album for release next week. Ahead of its arrival, though, Exclaim! is giving you an exclusive first listen to the record in its entirety.

As previously reported, the group teamed with mentor, friend and producer Gordie Sampson to achieve a “spirited and contemporary” sound across the 12 new tracks. And while it pushes fierce guitars, swelling synths and infectious beats to the forefront, the album never loses its focus on songcraft and its undercurrent of folk tradition.

From the bright upbeat opening cut “Back to the Bottom,” through more acoustically-driven numbers like “Sound of Your Voice” and “On the Nights You Stay Home,” and finally on to the contemplative, sparse instrumentation on closing track “Astronaut,” you can hear the whole album right now. Just hit play below. -


I hadn’t heard of Port Cities before and after the very first song off of their new self-titled debut album, I immediately regretted it. From the first beat and the first lyric to the very last song, I enjoyed every second from start to end. According to the band, a port city is a place where cultures and histories collide, where goods and ideas are imported. What once started out as a songwriting circle, since turned into a full-fledged musical work of art hailing all the way from the east coast.

Port Cities can be best described as a mix of east coast culture and indie flare. Each song on their self-titled debut is an individual masterpiece. Every song brings something different to the table but still manages to meld into one cohesive album. The lyrics are well-thought out and meaningful and the music behind the words speaks even more to what they are trying to accomplish. I love the fact that they don’t just stick to one genre of music. With a mix of more traditional sounds you’d find from artists who originate from the east coast of Canada and sounds that border country, indie and even a little that could be classified as pop-anthems, you get an eclectic mix of music that pleases the ears.

The song that stuck out to me most was their track “Astronaut”. It’s a whimsical song about childhood and dreaming out loud but also the harsh reality of growing up and realizing life isn’t always as it seems. It’s a beautifully done song with a sad undertone. You can’t help but enjoy every moment though as it’s one of those songs that you can’t help but relate to.

I can’t tell you what you like, but I can almost guarantee that you will enjoy every moment listening to Port Cities. They have a unique sound without being to abstract, yet also have a comforting sound that reminds you of your own experiences in life. It’s an album that will keep you dancing on your feet and swaying to the sounds that come from this talented trio. Go take a listen and let us know what you think! I am hoping I’m not the only one who took an instant liking to this amazing band. -


CALGARY – Supergroups have a formula. You take two or more established artists in need of career invigoration, give them a kitschy name (like the Moseying Masseurs) or a quotable project (like covering All Things Must Pass in Korean, backed by a choir of didgeridoos) and you are essentially done. This formula has had its share of successes to be sure, but some of the best supergroups work backwards, finding success as a collective of multiple talented singer-songwriters, and eventually leading to several successful careers. Port Cities is one of the latter, albeit in the early stages.

Carleton Stone’s slick song-writing has been seeping its way through the East Coast music circuit for a few years now, and his 2014 release Draws Blood crept up nationally into number 1 on CBC Radio 2’s top 20. Stone is perhaps the most prominent songwriting-wise on the record, and his quippy turns of phrase and subtle lyrical references to classics like Blood on the Tracks (1975) keep the record earnest and grounded, even in its low moments.

Dylan Guthro fills out much of the music instrumentally with his sprightly guitar work. His general influence is broad and his soulful vocal affection adds breadth to the band’s three-part harmonies. His lineage is perhaps the most written-about aspect of his work, but it does a disservice to the character and effusiveness of his contribution.

Breagh MacKinnon centres the Port Cities experience. A classically trained jazz performer, she lovingly works the ivories into the record’s most effective and tender moments. But her voice is the real spectacle. She has all of the warmth and colour of her jazz roots, but also the range and strength of a pop singer with a surprising restraint when she is harmonizing behind her two bandmates.

Each member of the Cape Breton three-piece has had their share of success, with a tableful of EMCA nominations and several solo releases between them, but with barely two years as Port Cities, the band has hit critical mass much more than the sum of their strings. Their self-titled record just dropped on Warner Music and they are about to hit the road with Rose Cousins, fresh off a much-lauded new release of her own.

The three began their musical relationship at Gordie Sampson’s iconic songcamp in 2011. “I’d be touring in the summers with them playing shows” Breagh MacKinnon tells BeatRoute. The three traded off playing in each other’s bands supporting each other’s solo projects, frequently writing and collaborating on recordings together. MacKinnon describes the genesis of the Port Cities project: “we were on a tour around the Maritimes as three solo songwriters, sort of as a songwriter’s circle, and it was on that tour where we started to get that idea of ‘what would it be like if we started one band?’”

The ball rolled quickly with the band able to curate together a list of songs they had already been collaborating on, songs that specifically “seemed to work well with three voices.” The 12-track release features writing from all three songwriters, but also credits from Donovan Woods to Gordie Sampson and Mo Kenney. -


Port Cities is a band on the way up. The Halifax-based group —and former Searchlight semifinalists — met at Gordie Sampson's songwriting camp and found they had great chemistry together. Carleton Stone, Breagh Mackinnon and Dylan Guthro all have their own solo careers, but as a group they harmonize beautifully and write great tunes together. So naturally they are currently focusing their energy on Port Cities.

CBC Music had a busy week in late January when we set up shop at Joel Plaskett's New Scotland Yard studio in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and recorded Plaskett on one night and Port Cities on another. Port Cities brought along Michael Ouellette on bass and Brian Talbot on drums and played a great set of new tunes. Port Cities' debut, self-titled album was released on Feb. 10, and here now for you are 10 songs from the new release. -


Discography

Still working on that hot first release.

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Bio

A port city is a place where cultures and histories collide, where goods and ideas are imported and absorbed into the local bloodstream. The trio of celebrated Nova Scotian songwriters who now call themselves Port Cities honour that tradition. Their chosen name isn’t just indicative of where they’re from (the harbour hamlet of Cape Breton) but what they do: fuse divergent styles and experiences into a singular roots-rock sound.

Port Cities’ self-titled debut may be the group’s first effort together, but its members share deep, intertwining roots in the Maritime music scene. In addition to releasing three solo albums, Carleton Stone has written songs for and with everyone from Quebecois soul sensation Bobby Bazini to beloved acoustic troubadour Donovan Woods. Dylan Guthro has parlayed his own folk/RnB fusions into match-ups with Halifax hip-hop hero Classified and EDM crew Neon Dreams (whose 2015 single “High” featured Guthro alongside rap superstar Waka Flocka Flame). And Breagh MacKinnon is a jazz-schooled chanteuse whose 2012 album, Where the Days Went, was nominated for an ECMA Award; she has since lent her voice to recordings by East Coast pop icons David Myles and Ria Mae.

Port Cities is a collaboration six years in the making. The trio first crossed paths in 2011 at a songwriter’s workshop hosted by Gordie Sampson, the Nova Scotia native who has become one of the most in-demand writers and producers in Nashville (his roster of past collaborators—Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, and Florida Georgia Line among them—could fill up an entire Grammys telecast). That initial meeting would eventually lead to triple-bill tour in 2014 that, MacKinnon recalls, “was originally supposed to be a songwriter’s circle, but by the end, it had more of a band feel than three musicians performing separately. It was just magic when we sang together. Shortly after that, we started throwing around the idea of making it official and starting a band.”

After building a fervent fanbase in Eastern Canada through steady gigging over the past two years, the trio laid down the bed tracks for their debut album in Nashville, tapping into Sampson’s deep Rolodex of ace session players. But then they took the recordings back home and “just messed with things,” Guthro explains. “We’d do these big weird group vocals, create and experiment with sounds—and through that, we landed on a vibe that’s consistent across this whole record.”

The result is a perfect balance of Nashville and Nova Scotia, of the rustic and atmospheric, of indie intimacy and the sort of arena-pop anthems that betray Port Cities’ globe-trotting ambitions; the fall of 2016 saw the band set out on their maiden cross-Canada and European voyages. It’s a record that draws on Port Cities’ collective songwriting expertise, but also reveals the dark emotional undercurrents lurking beneath the heavenly harmonies and heart-racing stomp of “Back to the Bottom”, or the intimations of infidelity tucked into the relaxed country-rock lilt of “On the Nights You Stay Home.” Even on the album’s most ebullient tracks, nothing is as it seems on the surface: the gentle Afro-pop groove of “How to Lose You” coaxes the tension out of a love song that’s consumed with the possibility of loneliness; “The Out” is a disco-kissed break-up song perfect for dancing on your own.

As Stone explains, “One thing we all seem to connect with lyrically is showing a less-than-perfect idea of love, and not being scared to talk about how everything is not great, or call out a lot of what normal, traditional love songs would be about.”

The album closes with the desolate ambient ballad “Astronaut,” a song that invokes outer-space imagery only to send us crashing back down to Earth, contrasting childhood dreams of interstellar exploration with the harsh, hopeless realities of navigating adult life. It’s a fitting finale for an album that’s nestled in the liminal space between familiar and foreign, pairing sounds that comfort with lyrics that confront. Because that’s the thing about living in a port city: the place you call home is also a gateway into the great unknown—and, at any moment, that scenic, open-water vista can give way to crashing waves and fierce undertows.