It's been three years since One Hundred Dollars' first full-length Forest of Tears was released, long-listed for the Polaris Music Prize and lauded for its contemporary interpretation of country music. The band also earned acclaim for its moving live performance and ability to fit on any bill, whether indie, folk, or punk, touring Canada and the US.
The new LP Songs of Man reflects a change in personnel, approach and instrumentation. Recorded to tape over twelve days at Blue Rodeo's Woodshed studio, Songs of Man contains ten distinct narrative perspectives and the sounds to match them. Lead singer and lyricist Simone Schmidt draws from her experience as a speech facilitator. "In that job, I'd go around life with people who don't communicate verbally and assist in verbalizing what they're thinking to the rest of the world. I had a deep friend in one person I worked with, Aaron, and I would communicate for him all over the place - the doctor's office, the strip club, therapy, the bar. I got to know a lot of different people in ways I wouldn't have other wise. Wild insights into the human condition. One of the tunes on the record is Aaron's Song."
Schmidt continues her collaboration with Ian Russell (guitar), and welcomes Paul Mortimer (electric lead) as co-writer as well. Most often working in the balladic tradition, Schmidt delves into character sketches of a range of people, some tangential to broader dramas playing themselves out across songs. For instance, "Fires of Regret" is a letter from the man sung about in the title track of the bandís first LP Forest of Tears.
Forest of Tears was recorded live over 13 hours, after the band had played together for a six weeks. In contrast, each song on Songs of Man was treated differently by producer (and pedal steel player) Stew Crookes. "We set out to record one song from start to finish every day, experimenting with sounds while crafting many of the parts in studio as the recording evolved over that day. This allowed us to have different and well considered textures throughout the record."
Crookes has made records with such diverse artists as Doug Paisley, Jill Barber and Hawksely Workman. "The first time we met Stew, we were playing as a duet," guitarist Ian Russell says. "He approached us with an offer to record. Then he started playing with us, and three years later we took him up on the offer. It's lucky because you get all the familiarity and ease of working with an insider who happens to really know what he's doing as a producer."
One Hundred Dollars' instrumentation has changed as well. Jonathan Adjemian has moved on, so Schmidt fills in on keys and plays some guitar too. David Clarke remains on percussion, sometimes stepping outside the kit, and Russell, known for his unique acoustic guitar playing, plugs in the electric. Rookie Kyle Porter has entered the band on bass, shifting Paul Mortimer over to lead guitar. Mortimer's playing has become the signature sound of One Hundred Dollars' live show, as he seamlessly integrates Piedmont country-blues style picking with electric guitar bends and pedals.
With all these changes, Songs of Man moves to reinforce what One Hundred Dollars is best known for: a tight re-imagining of what the contemporary Country Song can be.