“There’s a place I start
In the corner of my heart
That could take this world apart
And put it back together “
A Benefit 4 Dreamland from 44
On the eve of his 45th birthday, Joel Plaskett celebrates the release of 44, a set of four, 11-song albums that represent the most elaborate and creative endeavour of his multi-faceted 26-year career. A deep weave of lyrical threads, studio experimentation and interconnected imagery, 44 marks a new chapter in both Joel’s life and work.
The fourth single of the project, “Melt Universe With Brotherly Love”, lands in a different world than the previous three singles, and its uplifting chorus – powerfully performed by Reeny, Mahalia and Micah Smith from North Preston, Nova Scotia – is a welcome message for the current moment. The song’s video, stitched together by Joel in isolation at his home in Dartmouth, features Cheeks and Chips, two feline brothers adopted from the Bide Awhile Animal Shelter, whose affection for one another inspired the song’s title.
Joel’s spring tour with The Emergency and Mo Kenney has been rescheduled to the fall, with fingers crossed in hope of future congregation – dates found here. Until then, 44‘s imaginative two-and-a-half-hour musical journey can provide company and escape in these uncertain times. 44 is released on Pheromone Recordings and available on vinyl, CD and streaming services.
Last night, Joel performed songs from the album and talked in-depth with pal and fellow musician David Myles via YouTube. Watch the intimate performance here.
PART 41: Carried Away
It was late afternoon by the time he pulled into Memphis. April 18, 2019, the night of his 44th birthday. The night before the full moon.
He’d already been on the road for days by then, heading south from Nova Scotia, following the coast before turning inland to Nashville, then on to Memphis. He was alone, driving a second-hand Chevy through the dark like he did in the early days, following old roads in search of something new.
“Come on down, man. We’ll collude,” Doug had said. The invitation played on Joel’s lips as he drove, forming first a poem, then a melody. The song wrote itself as he travelled south, kilometres turning to miles beneath his wheels, troubled world passing by outside the window.
He turned from the 440 Parkway onto the 40 West, noting the synchronicity. Fours and elevens everywhere. Coincidence or something more depending on how you chose to see it.
In the studio the next afternoon, the musicians gathered around. There was an old ribbon microphone on the floor in front, a piano behind. Joel settled the guitar in his lap. Sometimes it is better not to rehearse or prepare.
“Let’s roll one,” Joel said. “It goes like this.”
PART 42: Just Passing Through
Joel got the shelves from Nieforth’s when it closed and brought them up the block to his studio. The store had been there forever, it seemed, but times and tastes and streets change, and these days even forever doesn’t last.
It felt right to have the shelves stay on Portland Street. There were so many old ghosts on that block, in those buildings. Such a short path between 35 and 45.
Joel set the shelves up along one wall and began filling them. There were plants and books, pictures of friends and strangers, souvenirs of the living and the dead. Memories of Halifax and the way things used to be.
He added dice and matches. A dragonfly found its own way. There were Rebecca’s gifts – art and beauty and wild things.
Sometimes at night, Joel would go to the studio alone to listen to music and to think. He would turn the lights low and set the sound of the speakers off balance to create a perfect mix on the couch where he lay.
Surrounded by other people’s words and music, Joel sometimes understood things he hadn’t before. He saw exits and entrances, portals and windows. A familiar face reflected in the light of the exit sign.
And then he would go to those shelves, moving the pieces around until he found some sort of order.
PART 43: If There’s Another Road
They drove on curving highways through Cape Breton, in search of darkness.
There were four of them in two cars, carrying among them the shelves and everything the shelves would hold, the arrangement all carefully numbered and blocked. There was an old window his friend Andy had reconfigured into four equal panes, a relic of the past remade into something new.
The plan was not quite clear, except to recreate what was already done and photograph it in a new place, in a new way, under a new moon and a sky scattered with stars. Sometimes you need the light, but other times it distracts from what is already there, waiting to be found.
There would be photos inside photos, doors inside windows. Secrets for two. The answer but not the question.
They arrived too late but started anyway, setting up the shelves on the wharf in the crisp September air, snapping picture after picture until night fell and the weather turned, and suddenly wind and water threatened to take it away. Soon the fabric that backed the shelves was drenched and stained with salt, the waves coming closer.
Joel stood against the sea and sky, the wind grabbing at a piece of paper in his hands. How easy it is to lose it all. A roll of the dice between what we can replace and what we cannot. The new ring from Memphis gleamed a thin crescent on his hand while he used a flashlight to trace patterns in the night.
PART 44: The Window Inn
They gathered at the studio on a Sunday evening in November. Bob brought his old RCA 44 ribbon microphone from Arizona, others brought their voices, their talent. Thirteen people to sing and play, three more to document it.
The song was made up of pieces, four unfinished songs that hadn’t quite worked on their own pieced together to become one, everything fitting together as though it was always meant to be that way. Salvaged and remade to become something new.
They set the microphone at the heart of the group, then arranged the voices and instruments around, everyone exactly where they needed to be. Everything in balance.
Before they started to record, Joel addressed the group, staring out at the room filled with old conspirators and new friends.
“No matter what happens, keep going,” he told them.
Then the tape was rolling.
Joel was nervous, his voice cracking as he sang. There’s a place I start, in the corner of my heart, that could take this world apart and put it together. He was alone at first, just him and his guitar, the song growing richer and fuller as others joined.
“We can’t hear your vocals,” Bob said after they’d run it through the first time.
Joel waved an acknowledgement but kept his head down. The intensity of the feeling surprised even him, an overwhelming rush of relief and creation. The beauty of all those people and voices coming together like one. Dreamland.
*Album narratives written by Jana G. Pruden