By: B.F. "Mole" Mowat
Hello, and welcome to what I hope will be the first of many columns detailing the musical activities of the northern part of North America.
I'm going to start in my own backyard of Hamilton, Ontario, with an overview of one of the more interesting songwriters this country has produced: Tim McCarroll-Butler.
No, he's not exactly a household name, unless your household is in Burlington, Ontario where sullen adolescents know him as Mr. Art Teacher, or in the west end of Hamilton (a heavy manufacturing town located 90 minutes west of Buffalo) where he resides.
For more than decade, though, Tim has released a steady stream of low-tech recordings, usually done on an analogue, four-track machine, all of which feature Tim's ubiquitous musical vision. The closest comparison I can make is: imagine New Zealand's Tall Dwarfs (fellow low-tech, skewed-pop travelers) with a folksier bent. Generally, his demeanor is sunnier than most alt.-rock mopers, but structurally more challenging than most festival strummers. His intuitive sense of phrasing and unconventional arrangements always keeps things interesting, and his dry greak of a voice is offset by his natural unforced sense of melody.
Tim's output began appearing on beautifully- packaged cassette releases (remember, this is a future art teacher assembling these thingys) in 1992 with his work with the Green Ants Dream, a trio consisting of McCarroll-Butler on guitar, Pete Goindi on drums and Rob McMahon on bass. Stylistically, the group was subject to the influences of the big alt.rawk phenoms of the day (Pavement, etc.) but fortunately, the group sounds like none of them. Rocococo was the first thing issued, and while it is has the thinnest physical sound presence of the available recordings, it also has such genuinely inspired performances as rip my velvet, a face-slap at the Loser-palooza herd mentality.
Torque, the 1993 follow-up to Rocococo, would the last recording to bear the Green Ants Dream moniker, and is the band's finest document. It documents Tim's deep-seated aversion to mass-American culture in such works as glenn gould's piano & generica, the latter remodeled by the GAD's successor outfit, the Garblerays on the 1993 Cows Go Mu CD compilation. The playing is muscular and informed, with McMahon's well-defined bass lines (esp. on analogous) paddling the songs along.
While both Green Ants Dream titles have now been remastered and re-issued on McCarroll-Butler's Teleharmonic Implosion label, the same cannot be said, alas, of the Garblerays recorded efforts. There might be a few cassettes kicking around the TI offices, along with such admirable G-Ray solo combo projects as Grekk Fowler and the Communism sessions. Best to write about those, which along with the G-Rays, represented Tim's work at its most structurally skewed.
During this time, McCarroll-Butler married, begat children (some of which appear on Mc-B's solo outings). His writing tone on his subsequent solo efforts reflected said domestic bliss, without, however, becoming complacent and fat-ish. Wring, his 1996 solo debut, alternated between the folksy sunny-ness of my big three (about the three most important people in his life) and the eccentric twists n'turns of such future-classics as amorphous waltz & pete larson's steamboat nerves.
Aside from dutifully forwarding all of the TI releases to my office, Tim did little to promote himself, partially because Tim doesn't care to play "the game", but mainly because he has domestic responsibilities that he takes very seriously. As a result, during the 90s, he had to be content with a microscopic cult following.
Said cult was duly rewarded in 1998 with moot, his second solo effort, which featured protest song, a tune so folks-ily formal it could've appeared on an old Phil Ochs LP. The trilogy of pieces that round out the disc (mCavoy's boot/it's an ace cutter/monte carlo) represents Tim at his form-dickering peak. And the disc marks the first recorded appearance of one of McB's greatest individual songs, mojave desert , a purposeful crab-stomp into the wilderness.
Tim's most recent work, good, is perhaps the most user-friendly of all his releases, with such "hits" as Tornado (phonics for phun!) and Gravity Is Love. I'd like to see the much-bally-hoo'ed (well, up here anyhoo) Ron Sexsmith come up with something as good as the latter. And the good news is: all of these hand-burned titles are readily available in beautiful hand-crafted sleeves at www.tunedigger.com The line-up starts here--