Halifax singer songwriter vitalizes village

There are many endearing qualities about Halifax singer-songwriter Kev Corbett, but what comes across the most is the fact that the man is all about community.

And in this sense, there could have been no more fitting a place for him to play than in the ever-quaint and tightly-knit Victoria-By-the-Sea for the Victoria Playhouse Concert Series this past Monday night.

For the past several years, the guitar picker/singer/prolific lyricist has been establishing himself as “one of the best of our bumper crop of fine young songwriters” as his bio says. And upon listening to the dude live, I would certainly echo the truth of this statement.

The former pro sideman guitarist/bassist for various acts, who has now turned to his own solo career, brings with him that adept skill from his former musical profession and combines it with a deep-thinking, far-lefty-political, love-of-his-wife-and-his-homeland kind of songwriting charm.

And even though his onslaught of almost novel-esque lyrics in each song, delivered through a voice that might seem gruff in nature, could come across as off-putting at first, the personality only grows on you as you listen more. And in a Dylan/Cohen/Old Man Luedecke/Al Tuck/Lou Reed-esque kind of way, he ends up taking you off on a new and profound adventure in every tune.

And yes, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a performer who trumpets a love of his Halifax community as much as Corbett does.

This was proven soon into his first set on Monday night when Corbett sang a song about one of his favourite places on Earth: the Halifax Farmers’ Market.

“Get up, get clean, get on the bikes, get on downtown and look for a space, get in a coffee lineup that just never ends and down to the steps and take our place,” Corbett sang (words that many of us market-goers can relate to) over a quickly-plucked arpeggiated progression in an open acoustic tuning.

“And the world would just seem heartless without a place that has some heart, like the First Church at the Farmers’ Market.”

As the song ended, Corbett elaborated on the theme that seems to be central to his worldview/way of life/artistic trajectory: “When the oil all runs out, we’re gonna’ be turning back to each other and will be dependent upon each other in ways we haven’t been for quite some time.”

His forward-thinking liberal views continued to be expressed throughout the night in great songs like Growing Down (his “20s manifesto,” as he called it, and one of his first tunes ever), and The Cottager’s Reply (a lovely story-in-a-song by songwriter Chris Wood).

Some other highlights of Corbett’s night included Cheese and Whiskey (a fun tune that’s just jam-packed with food/love analogies), 12 Steps to Hell (an intriguing tune about a night in the green room at his favourite booze can — The Times Changed High and Lonesome Club in Winnipeg) and With the Grace of God, a song about the life and times of John Allan Cameron.

Corbett’s father actually went into the seminary with Cameron, when Cameron was originally thinking of becoming a priest. And when Cameron passed away several years ago, Corbett felt the “Live at 5” kind of tributes being done for the musician who touched so many of our lives was not nearly fitting enough.

So in a five-minute long song dedicated to Cameron’s life, Corbett expressed some touchingly beautiful sentiments, not only specifically about Cameron, but about the journey from life to death we all make together:

“The greatest victory for a warrior is when he dies just from getting old … and he rises above it all, you rise above. You ride the bear of song your whole life long, and now you get to ride the doves … we’re all stars tied down to the Earth and then we all will join the stars above.”

This lyric sample and the one preceding it are just two little paragraphs from a wealthy evening’s worth of creative word-weaving to song by Corbett. And if these appeal to you, check out his lyrics page on the website at www.kevcorbett. You can also listen to The Grace of God on his CBC Radio 3 page online.

“I’m still thinking about this communities thing, and I want to thank all you guys for coming out to this show and for supporting this little community of Victoria,” Corbett said near the end of the night.

But I think it was certainly the community of Victoria that was feeling indebted to Corbett’s presence when all was said and done.

-Todd MacLean