Canadian songwriter David Myles was influenced by several artists’ concerts, but two performances by Tony Bennett really stand out.
“A few years ago, I saw Tony Bennett in Chicago at a huge outdoor venue,” says Myles, who will be releasing a new album, Real Love, in September. “He was all class. Great musicianship, wonderful rapport with the audience, and the whole thing worked. He sings standards better than anyone. He knows them so deeply. It was great.
“A few months later, I played a private Christmas party and, to my surprise, Tony Bennett was the secret performer for the night. There he was, now playing to just over 100 people in a living room. I was standing only a few feet from him, and he nailed it with the same enthusiasm, passion, and class that he brought to the stage for those 16,000 or so people in Chicago. It was really inspiring.”
I ask Myles what, though, was the best concert he ever attended as a spectator, and he hesitates.
“Hmmm, tricky question,” he responds. “Can I name a few? I saw Nick Lowe and Ry Cooder together in London about seven years ago, and that was pretty mind-blowing. Two of my favorite artists together laying it down. Really inspiring stuff.
“I played the Philly Folk Fest, and the lineup there was rad. Marty Stuart and his band are definitely one of my favorite live acts working these days. The Fairfield Four was also one of the most powerful shows I’ve ever seen. Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how hard music can really hit you, and watching those guys reminded me of that. I was moved to tears a number of times. Felt like the Holy Spirit was smashing me right in the soul! I guess that’s the idea, and it worked.”
During his own live shows, Myles does a great cover version of Smokey Robinson’s “Tracks of My Tears.”
“It’s definitely one of my favorite songs,” he says. “I sing it in the acoustic context, because I think sometimes we forget just how beautifully well written a pop song can be. Smokey Robinson is a master lyricist, and people often forget that because he had such an unreal gift for melody and singing. I like blurring the lines between R&B, pop, folk, etc.”
Myles’s new album, Real Love, is “a real throwback to the early days of RCA Studio B,” he says. “Don Gibson, Elvis, that stuff. I wanted to get at that gray zone between country and rock and roll, and I think we really nailed it.”
His previous full-length album, So Far, was the first release for an American audience.
“I’ve received tons of positive feedback on the record, and it’s sold really well at live shows,” he says. “Making So Far was interesting, because it was kind of my introduction to people in the US. I didn’t really feel like making a compilation of tracks from my last eight records in Canada, because they were made at different times with different approaches. I really felt that rerecording some of my best-of with the band I play with live was the best way to go. It felt like a really true introduction to my songs and the way we most often perform them live. That was my main aim."
Myles’s three-piece band includes Alan Jeffries on lead guitar and Kyle Cunjak on upright bass.
“We all sing vocals and harmonies, and arrangements are a big part of what we do,” says Myles, who also plays guitar and is a witty showman between songs. “I definitely do bigger shows with drums, keys, backup singers, etc., but, most of the time, it’s just the three of us. I love it. We’ve been playing for almost 10 years now, and it just gets better and better.
“We all grew up in the same hometown of Fredericton, New Brunswick, but have fairly different musical backgrounds. Al, for instance, has been steeped in bluegrass music his whole life. I loved jazz, and my dad directed musicals. And Kyle was a Nirvana fanatic. But we all get along incredibly well and have been able to really develop as a band. It’s unique and something that I’m really proud of.”
Myles now lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which, he says, has a great musical scene. I visited there many years ago when that musical scene was flourishing with numerous talented artists, including Joel Plaskett and Al Tuck. Local musicians told me half-jokingly that the city’s unemployment rate was so high that everyone was a musician.
“A big part of who I am musically is shaped by the musicians around me,” Myles says. "That's what makes Halifax special. It’s big enough so there is a large number of active professional musicians but not so many that artists from different genres don’t associate. I constantly run into and am inspired by musicians from completely different musical worlds. We have some of the best Celtic and Acadian traditional musicians anywhere, and that keeps the bar of musicianship really high. They can really play. I dig that.”
Many Canadian musicians are among Myles’s favorites.
“I’m lucky to live and work on the east coast, which is packed with great musicians with really respectable careers,” he says. “People like Joel Plaskett, Classified (a Canadian hip-hop artist-producer who collaborated with Myles), Old Man Luedecke, Catherine MacLellan, and Rose Cousins are people I’ve been lucky enough to tour with, grow with, and learn from as musicians. It’s a great community.
“One of my favorite Canadian musicians of all time was named Lhasa De Sela. She recently, tragically passed away at a young age. She lived for many years in Montreal and made some of the most diverse, interesting and inspired music I’ve heard. She was one of those once-in-a-generation artists who had a global vision, pulling in influences from everywhere. I love that.”