The Toronto music scene is more than well aware of the musical contributions of local artist J. Englishman.
I used to run into Englishman’s sister, Jenny-Bea, browsing through the thrift stores of Kensington Market or checking out the bookshelves at The Eternal Moment Bookstore on Bloor Street. Just a few paces away from this bookstore is (now the one and only) Future Bakery, famous to Torontonians for its baked bread and cheap meals. “Futures” was originally part of a chain of restaurants started by a Ukranian family many years ago. It was at this Future Bakery that I first met and chatted with Jenny-Bea. Of course, since then, she has followed in her brother’s footsteps by releasing two albums of her own under the name Esthero.
Future Bakery is right down the street and around the corner from the University of Toronto, and eight to 10 years ago it was a real hot spot where old men liked to smoke and play professional style chess games. Students also frequented the establishment for its casual atmosphere and bottomless cups of java.
I was sitting in “Futures” one day with a friend of mine who had been doing my Tarot reading. Jenny-Bea had been making some pseudo sign language gestures at me, and I became a little distracted. I responded by pointing to my temple with my index finger and circling it around a few times, indicating that I thought she might me a bit crazy. She then walked over and asked me, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means I don’t think you really know sign language, but perhaps you’re crazy,” I replied.
“Oh yeah, well mine meant you’re cute, watch the Chinese eat.”
We ended up chatting for awhile about the Toronto scene, especially the music scene, and she described this album she wanted to put out. I remember she told me she had been doing a lot of work on it and it was going to sound a little bit like Portisehead and Bjork.
Esthero’s first album, titled Breath From Another, had been out for almost a year (years after I’d met her at “Futures”) before I first discovered she was the sister of J. Englishman. I’d already become a huge fan of the album before I realized the female singing on it was none other than Jenny-Bea. I remember thinking to myself, “Hey! She did it!”
The album was a very solid debut with rich vocals and excellent mellowing downbeats. Overall, it was quite different sounding from most music that comes out of Ontario, but it still had a distinct Toronto flavour to it that perhaps only someone who had grown up in the city could put his or her finger on.
Esthero was featured on several soundtracks and collaborated with a myriad of other artists after her first release, but no second album arrived. There was on-and-off talk of a follow-up album, but more than five years passed before any substantial new material by the “Pink Pirate” hit music shelves.
A few weeks ago that all changed. A mini-album, titled We R In Need of a Musical Revolution is finally now in stores. The album contains only five tracks, plus a sixth bonus track. Not much of a bonus, really, unless you take into consideration that this CD costs about half the price of a full-length. Not one to be shy of making a statement, the new album starts of with the vibrant red head belting the words, “I’m so sick and tired of the shit on the radio… I want something more!”
Esthero explains this further in the album’s liner notes. The title track is a statement, a call to arms, about how “We live in a world where in the same week a man who is accused of statutory rape can also have the largest selling record of his career. … I am concerned about us, all of us who truly love music, to whom music is a soundtrack of the key moments in our lives, and yet stand idly by and watch while our airwaves are controlled and polluted by people who program music so it doesn’t interfere with the frequencies generated by the hamburger commercials they peddle. …”
And what better way to start a musical revolution than having a blood relative of a Beatle on the record. Two songs on the album are co-written by Sean Lennon, the first of which is called Everyday Is a Holiday (With You) which, in my humble opinion, sounds like it could have been on a Beatles record.
Guitar, bass, drums, horns, and a singalong melody provide a mix that would probably meet the approval of Lennon Sr. and/or Sir Paul McCartney. Yet, in a nutshell, it lacks the originality that it would take to launch a musical revolution. The album is really more a statement about the state of the music industry and the corporate entities running the show than a solution or offering about what music should sound like. Esthero doesn’t really push any envelopes on this offering, she’s merely echoing a universal sentiment that someone should.