You may not know Béatrice “Betty” Bonifassi’s name but if you saw Les Triplettes de Belleville, you certainly heard her as she dominates the soundtrack. She was also the vocalist for DJ Champion on “No Heaven”, which made a splash a few years ago and even made it to the JUNO Awards show. This post-modern blues was recorded with four electric guitarists and a laptop that provided the heavy dance beats. Lomax continues in that vein but without the dance beats, with Jesse MacCormack supplying the guitar parts. There is also a six voice female choir as Betty Bonifassi & MacCormack re-imagine various Lomax prison recordings, writing new lyrics where necessary. What they have tried to do is bring out the hidden meanings with the new arrangements. “Grizzly Bear”, for instance, was always about the overseers on horseback with a rifles & whips supervising the chain gangs. The percussion instruments in the song include chains. Those meanings had to be hidden, otherwise the songs could not have been sung, let alone recorded. Their vision of the suppressed anger is realized with her vocals, the choir and the jagged guitar parts. Lomax is actually the second disc in this concept, a self-titled disc from 2014 used arrangements that were heavily keyboard & synthesizer based. Two of the songs are on both, making for handy comparisons – “No More My Lawrds” uses strings very effectively on the older disc. I think this second version better represents what they’re trying to do, although “Early In The Morning” is a particular highlight on that first disc. “No More My Lawrds” on Lomax has a video at her web site, www.bettybonifassi.com that draws stark similarities to modern day sweatshops. With Mathieu Désy on basses, Martin Lavallée on drums & chains and Martin Lizotte on keys, I think you’ll find these new versions of “Rosie”, “Berta”, “Old Hannah”, “Linin’ Track”, “I Don’t Do Nobody” and “Black Woman” make you think differently about the timeless originals. Bonifassi has clearly lived with these songs for some time and her imaginative use of the choir deserves high praise. If you get this in time, Bonifassi is bringing this show to Nathan Phillips Square on July 3. The show is part of the Canada150 Celebrations hosted by the City of Toronto. She’s at the Discovery Stage at 7:15pm. The web site is www.toronto.ca/canada150.

John's Blues Picks July 2017 - The Bluesland Horn Band
July 2017 – Jenie Thai