“Im the one who can’t be told,” sings veteran Canadian country and roots singer/songwriter Joanne Mackell on her new album Brand New Lonesome. When it comes to her career it seems she’s a woman who knows her mind.
“When I first started there would be the chick singer in the band, and if you didn’t have a strong personality you were dominated by people telling you what to do. Fortunately I have a very strong personality.”
Mackell began her musical career in an all-female rock band called Otherwise. “People would constantly come up to us and ask if our boyfriends bought us our amps,” she says. “If we had equipment trouble guys would walk up and say, ‘Did you check the plug?’
“I recently put my record up on [music website] CD Baby and they asked for influences, other artists I sounded like, and I said Bob Dylan and Dwight Yoakam. I was hard-pressed to find a comparable woman.” Country is a very male-dominated genre and Mackell, as an openly gay woman with what she describes as her “big butch voice,” is a musical rarity.
Brand New Lonesome is Mackell’s first record in just more than a decade. “I call my record company Slow Road Records. I take my time,” she says. It’s a catchy, feel-good album and Mackell sings about the plight of the loveless with humour as well as poignancy. “If she hasn’t got money, that’s okay/ But if she’s got it by the bucket, hip hip hooray/ La la la,” she sings on the album’s title track.
The record benefits from its long gestation period, with polished production and tongue-in-cheek lyrics, many of which are about “looking at love from the other side.” Mournful love ballad “This Close” is followed by another kind of love song, “Red Yellow Blue,” which plays tribute to the beauty of a big sky at low tide.
Despite a hiatus from recording since the release of her first album, Local Gig in Paradise, Mackell hasn’t stopped playing. She fronts a monthly gig at the Gladstone Hotel with her band the Paradise Rangers, as well as organizing The Jambo, an annual roots party on Ward’s Island that, in part, helps new bands and young female artists get heard. “I tell them to be the leader of your band, to take command of your career. I have a special place in my heart for women coming up.”
Mackell began running The Jambo soon after she moved to Toronto; this year will be the ninth. Born in Montreal, Mackell lived in the US for several years. “I love Toronto,” she says of her decision to settle here. “I think it’s one of the best live cities in the world. No matter what kind of music you play, you can find an audience here. It’s a town that loves original music.”Joanne Mackell launches her CD at the Gladstone’s Melody Bar (1214 Queen St W) on Sat, May 17 from 6pm to 9pm; admission is free.