Live at Sixty-Five
[Old Bold Records]
Mendelson Joe, the dean of Canadian curmudgeonly songwriters, is a cult artist who doesn’t have a solo listing on allmusic.com, seldom ventures too far from his old log cabin home located north of Toronto, doesn’t seem to care much about giving concerts, and doesn’t have much name recognition outside Canada. Some might even argue that he’s a nearly forgotten figure outside his native province.
After several albums as part of a late 1960s-early 1970s blues group called McKenna Mendelson Mainline (later reduced to Mainline), Joe released a solo album, Mr. Middle of the Road (1972), reversed the order of his name, became a respected painter, and gained a reputation as an activist who rails against injustice and apathy. Since then he has released a slew of albums bearing such titles as Not Homogenized, Born to Cuddle, The Name of the Game Ain’t Schmaltz, Humans Bug Me, and Women Are the Hope of the World. Mendelson Joe’s style of music features deliberately plodding rhythms, courtesy of his foot-stomping, and an eccentric, sometimes grunting, vocal style that breathlessly emphasizes every syllable.
At Sixty-Five features both new and old songs with such titles as “I’m a Folkie,” “I’m Fussy,” “Fragile Man” (the title of an album he released in 1986), and a scathing critique of the music business called “They Will Take Your Pants.” Spoiled Bratland is an album that Joe recorded back in 1998, but no label would put it out, so he recently decided to release it himself. Unlike the previous album, on which he flies solo, this one has accompaniment that includes a tuba and some wonderful female back-up singers. Joe wears his heart on his sleeve on some songs, while others have such simple albeit striking titles as “Lawyers” and “Puke (He Makes Me).”
Mendelson Joe has no illusions of appealing to the masses, but fans of singer-songwriter/painter Dan Reeder and of comparable idiosyncratic singer-songwriters/painters should check out one of Canada’s overlooked natural resources.
—Paul E. Comeau (Comeauville, NS, Canada)