Photo of Penny & Sparrow by  Jamie Clayton

Photo of Penny & Sparrow by Jamie Clayton

This branch of my blog has been really quiet (quasi-retired) over the last year or so, because personal and winding blog posts about music aren’t really a thing anymore (and maybe I’m fooling myself that they ever were). I still share clips and blurbs on my social media — and get great feedback from others who discover new music because of it — but I’ve missed coming here to share stories about songs that mean something to me. I’m coming back to it because I’ve realized music is as much a part of my story as anything else I write about, and I want to keep a record about who I was listening to as a kind of time capsule for myself and my children.

Last summer, I took them to the theatre to see a musical — the kind with live actors and booming Broadway voices. I’m very fortunate to have kids that are appreciative fans. And this particular show only served to reinforce their joy (there may have been some aisle dancing). The band that inspired the songs was one that we listened to a lot when I was growing up, and I knew my dad would have held onto the album.

During our next visit to my parents’ home, we flipped through his vinyl collection until we found it. He was happy to see it go home with my eight-year-old, who had already learned all the words to the songs. And every time we’ve put it on the turntable since, I’ve been taken back to my earliest days. My parents filled our home with music, and whenever I hear any of the songs from that time in my life, I feel an immediate connection to it. The mind has the most beautiful way of weaving senses with memories, and it’s such a gift to be able to be travel back to a feeling by riding the notes of a song.

This musical duo was shared with me by a dear friend, who sent me one of their songs when I asked for some new melancholy music. Penny & Sparrow deliver on that niche and then some. Whenever I write, I play sad songs. For me, it’s the best way to release the creativity that gets buried in the busyness of my daily life. There’s something about leaning into sorrow or pain or extraordinary emotion that makes me feel most in touch with my vulnerabilities. And I know that place to be the one where the truth can always be found.

Last week, I finally had the opportunity to hear them perform live in Toronto (after listening for a few years now), and they did not disappoint. Their newest album comes out this summer. But there are plenty of songs in their vast collection to fill your ears while you wait (click on the link and listen to their cover of Annie’s Song by John Denver. It’s exquisite).

I hope this song and all the other songs by these talented musicians becomes a gift from me to you, too.

A Year Of Music 2018: One Concert A Month

What a year 2018 has been. I rode a roller coaster of hope and despair, as I kept my eyes on ears on the world. It would have been so easy to fall heavily into despair, and sometimes I did. But I’ve done my best to stay upright and focussed on the horizon. Music has always been such a comfort and a way to ease tension and release my emotions.

Our one-concert-a-month mission (in year five now!) became a lifeline for me in so many ways this past year. Being in a room filled with strangers that are drawn to the same songs as me, always helps to remedy any feelings I might have that we’re becoming too disconnected. I always come away feeling renewed and flush with optimism that there is a collective good—even when we have to go looking for it.


Each year, when I put together my annual playlist of the artists we were so fortunate to see, I imagine my overseas and American friends (who tell me they look forward to this round-up each year). They are seeking new Canadian talent to explore, and I’m happy to share our abundance with them. To make things easier, I’ve highlighted the Canadian artists in my playlist.

My favourite shows this year were: First Aid Kit, Glen Hansard, Whitehorse, Massey Hall 125th Celebration (Whitehorse, Joel Plaskett, Jim Cuddy, Sam Roberts, Sarah Harmer, Buffy Sainte-Marie, July Talk), and Rufus Wainwright. My husband’s favourites were: Interpol and the Massey Hall show.

I also saw some amazing shows with friends, including Glen Hansard, Justin Timberlake, Pentatonix, and Mumford and Sons. Those are experiences that bring their own form of magic, and I’m so glad I have friends with whom I can dance and sing to music that falls outside the scope of what my monthly concert companion is keen to see. I hope this music moves you as much as it does me.

1) First Aid Kit * Nothing Has To Be True; 2) Whitehorse * Die Alone; 3) Nathaniel Rateliff * You Worry Me; 4) Yeah Yeah Yeahs * Maps; 5) Alvvays * Dreams Tonite; 6) Joel Plaskett * I Love This Town; 7) Jim Cuddy * Skyscraper Soul; 8) Sarah Harmer * Goin’ Out; 9) Buffy Sainte-Marie * The War Racket; 10) Sam Roberts * Hard Road; 11) July Talk * Beck + Call; 12) Beck * Lost Cause; 13) Interpol * NYC; 14) Ray Lamontagne * Let’s Make It Last; 15) Bahamas * No Wrong; 16) Andy Shauf * My Dear Helen; 17) Rufus Wainwright * The Tower Of Learning; 18) Hawksley Workman * Ice Age

A Year Of Music 2017: One Concert A Month

Mac Demarco at Danforth Music Hall (photo credit: Louise Gleeson) 

Mac Demarco at Danforth Music Hall (photo credit: Louise Gleeson) 

As we head into a new year of music, I'm so happy to share my personal playlist of favouirte tracks from last year's one-concert-a-month artists. 2017 brought a lot of nostalgia and reflection about our <ahem> age, even though we do our best to ignore rules about what music we should be listening to...but more about that later.

Like I was saying, 2017 was a fantastic throwback year for us. We kicked it off with Matthew Good's Beautiful Midnight album from 1999. The show was a run through of the album and we enjoyed his soaring vocals and witty candour about taking his kids to Disneyworld — because oh-my-god-you-guys he's doing that kind of thing now, too. 

Feist (FINALLY!) returned to the stage with a show at Massey Hall and it was incredible: goosebumps, tears and laughter. Her newest album has been playing on repeat here, and the song I included on my playlist is my new personal anthem (the video I snuck because we had amazing front row balcony seats is below). Actually, all of the songs on her new album, Pleasureare relatable (seriously, if we're of a similar age grouping, go listen to Any Party right now and just try to keep yourself from nodding in agreement). 

Feist, Baby Be Simple, at Massey Hall, Toronto, 2017

Massey Hall was the venue of the year (which is what will make 2017 one of our most memorable). We saw Alt-J (from amazing seats in the gallery), Grizzly Bear (my ears were ringing for two days afterwards), Jenn Grant (another Canadian songbird), Joan Baez & The Indigo Girls (please let me be half that amazing when I'm in my 70s), Wilco (so many guitars), and glorious, glorious PJ Harvey (another gobsmackingly nostalgic show for us). 

Jenn Grant at Massey hall (PHoto credit: louise gleeson)

Jenn Grant at Massey hall (PHoto credit: louise gleeson)

Shows like Charlotte Day Wilson, Alvvays, and Mac DeMarco were great for people watching, since we're pretty close to being old enough to parent most of the kids that were in the crowd (kids! put those lighters away! fire is dangerous!). Sidebar: I'm so lucky to be on this concert tour with a partner who treats music with so much care and reverence. He's always looking for and reading about new bands. And neither of us worry about being too old to be at these shows. Maybe the kids think we're important music journalists, who knows

Another highlight moment for me was being invited, as one of her long-time fans, into Canadian songbird and über-talent Sarah Slean's home for her new album launch (read about my other-worldly experience here). I was so nervous, I had to call three friends from my car for pep talks before I could muster the courage to go into the party. Her album Metaphysics makes me cry (just like all the albums before) and it was lovely to be able to end 2017 with another full scale concert in December. Sarah's talent is extraordinary, and we are so lucky to call her ours. 

Canadian songbird Sarah Slean (+ me!)

Canadian songbird Sarah Slean (+ me!)

We also had tickets to see The Cranberries in September, but the show was cancelled due to Dolores O'Riordan's health problems at the time. It was devastating to learn of her death earlier this month. The music she created is such a part of my history and coming of age — I've included one of my favourite tracks in this playlist to express my deep respect for her talent. 

This past year also gifted us with a lot of time spent with our siblings at various shows. All of them were memorable, but Wolf Parade and my first listen of I'll Believe in Anything were a highlight for me. I was going through a stressful time and the band's poetic lyrics and beautiful harmonies surprised me. Make sure to give that track your ear.

Here it is: 2017 in a personalized playlist. There were big venues and small bars; full bands and string quartets, old bands and new ones, and so much incredible Canadian talent (k d Lang left us speechless).

I hope you find a song that speaks to your heart, too. 

1) Matthew Good + Strange Days; 2) Wilco + Misunderstood; 3) Sarah Slean + Book Smart, Street Stupid; 4) Constantines + Young Lions; 5) Weaves + Scream (feat. Tanya Tagaq); 6) PJ Harvey + To Bring You My Love; 7) Charlotte Day Wilson + Work; 8) Mac DeMarco + Watching Him Fade Away; 9) Timber Timbre +  Hot Dreams; 10) Hannah Georgas + Don't Go; 11) Joan Baez + Carry It On; 12) Indigo Girls + Everything In Its Own Time; 13) The Cranberries + No Need To Argue; 14) Jenn Grant + Lion With Me; 15) The National + Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks; 16) Grizzly Bear + Knife; 17) Angus and Julia Stone + A Heartbreak; 18) Alvvays + Forget About Life; 19) Alt-J + Every Other Freckle; 20) Wolf Parade + I'll Believe In Anything; 21) Feist + Baby, Be Simple; 22) k d Lang + Wash Me Clean; 23) Skydiggers + Pull Me Down


Sarah Slean: And What Her Music Means To Me


I'm supposed to be making dinner so I can rush out the door and get my tiny pianist to his lesson. But I've made the mistake of putting a Sarah Slean vinyl on the turntable in our front room. 

There's always music playing as a background soundtrack to the activity vibrating through our home. Tonight, I wander away from my bubbling pot and closer to the sound of Sarah's voice and the gorgeous strings that rise and fall like a tide that can't decide whether to come in for the night or run away from the sun. 

The curtains are still open in the front window and the light is starting to fade outside. I know my neighbours can see me, but I close my eyes, raise my arms and move them with the music anyway — as though I'm the one conducting the musicians. I'm not graceful, but it doesn't matter. I am only moving for myself and because of what I feel when I hear those sounds. 

I brought my youngest child to the symphony for the first time when she was four. During a particularly moving piece, I glanced over to see her head tilted back on the seat, eyes blinking rapidly, and lower lip quivering. There were tears sliding from her eyes. I reached for her hand and she whispered, Mama, I'm starting to feel a little bit sad, because the music is so beautiful.

I understood what she meant. It's what I've always appreciated about Sarah's music — every song is an invitation to step into the emotions and thoughts too easily lost in our busyness. And each time I listen to her songs, they call me back again: to learn something new, to reflect on something past, to forgive, to let go, to love. 

It's been a 15 year journey for me and in honour of the value she places on generosity, when it comes to creating and sharing her music, Sarah chose some of her long-time supporters to attend an intimate performance for the launch her of her ninth studio album, Metaphysics. You have to choose those who choose you, she told us. I am without the right words to describe what it was like to sit inches from the beautiful string instruments and to watch Sarah perform on her beloved childhood piano. 

Sarah released her first EP, Universe, at age nineteen. If that doesn't hint at her extraordinary talent, then let me share that she is not only an accomplished poet, artist, songwriter and pianist but also an accomplished string composer, who has written four original scores for 21-piece string orchestras as well as two string quartets. The strings on her double album, Land & Sea are absolutely exquisite and it seems we will be treated to more of the same on the newest album

Sarah Slean is, in the words of TIME magazine, one of the most compelling acts Canada has to offer and you shouldn't wait another minute to hear for yourself. 

I've created a playlist of my favourite songs to date. This list will grow in a matter of days when the album is released on April 7th (I'm already drawn to Loved Well). You can pre-order the album on PledgeMusic until the 1st.

Canada needs to celebrate its artists and you won't go wrong with Sarah.