Newfoundland ReggaeI received a self-titled album from a group I'd never heard of called Pressure Drop 17 years ago, and was somewhat surprised to find out that it was a reggae LP recorded in St. John's, Nfld. with a lineup of five people you wouldn't normally expect to be in a band together. I was even more surprised to find out that it was really good.
I hooked up with the band members when they came to Toronto and became friends with them, especially drummer/singer/producer Jim Fidler. I even went to St. John's and the tiny French island of St. Pierre off the coast of Newfoundland when Jim married his lovely wife Lillian in 1996 and spent a lot of time with the two of them when they briefly moved to Toronto while Jim was appearing in The Needfire at the Princess Of Wales Theatre in 1998 and the Royal Alexandra Theatre in 2000. There are lots of fun stories I could tell about spending time with these folks, but I'll save them for later.
Pressure Drop released another album called From The Inside Out in 1994 before calling it a day, and Jim embarked on a solo music and production career centred around his Roots Cellar studio. He released four fine albums that touched on Newfoundland's Celtic music roots and also explored music from around the world. Jim plays pretty much every instrument on his albums, which is all the more impressive considering that he's blind.
Jim and I have lost touch over the last couple of years, but I thought about him again today after listening to Keep Out, the new album from another St. John's reggae band, Idlers. I was given the group's Corner debut album (which was engineered by Lee Tizzard, who I know from his days working with Pressure Drop) by another friend from St. John's last year and was really impressed. So were others, as Idlers won a Galaxie Rising Star of the CBC Award, several honours in Newfoundland and was nominated for an East Coast Music Award.
Keep Out is one of the best roots reggae albums I've heard this year, and I'll hopefully get a chance to see Idlers when the band embarks on an eastern Canadian tour next month that includes a Nov. 13 stop at Toronto's Rancho Relaxo. Idlers call themselves a "reggae circus" and I have no idea how an 11-piece band is going to fit on to that club's tiny stage.
Listening to Keep Out piqued my curiosity about what Jim has been up to lately, so I went to his website and found out that he's returned to reggae again and has just released a new album titled Revolution Time. You can hear samples of each song on the record on the site, and I'm happy to say that it also sounds great and exhibits more polished and professional production than the Pressure Drop records did.
So while you may not think of Newfoundland as a reggae hotbed, Keep Out and Revolution Time show that there's certainly something happening on The Rock and both Idlers and Jim Fidler deserve to be heard across the rest of Canada and beyond.
You can find out more about Idlers here.
You can find out more about Jim Fidler here.