A charismatic charmer and a smasher of pianos. A madman and an earnest poet. A strummer of delicate chords and a lover of bent and broken melodies. Ben Caplan is not any one thing. As he releases his second album, he's already gained a following in more than a dozen countries from Australia to Europe and across North America. It's no surprise. Caplan is simply unforgettable; with his huge beard and unruly mane, he is as visually striking as he is aurally compelling. His rough and textured tones cut through crowded halls; an enormous voice, roaring louder than raucous crowds. The microphone looks almost superfluous. But looks are deceiving; once he has your attention, Caplan can croon smoother than a glass of single malt whisky, pouring beauty into a harsh world.
For the past 15 years or so, Jewish-Canadian accordion player/singer-songwriter/novelist Geoff Berner has travelled the world. Clever and literate, his songs can make you want to weep, laugh, grind your teeth, or kick out a window--often all at the same time. His writing can be overtly political, overtly left wing, leaning towards anarchy, but free of easy slogans or cliches. His peers consider him a “songwriter’s songwriter” and many artists have taken the time to learn and play his songs, including Corb Lund, the Be Good Tanyas, and Rae Spoon.
It’s rare for a musician to be as good at writing prose as making music. Berner can credibly make that claim. Maclean’s, Canada’s national magazine, praised his first novel, Festival Man, for its “hilarity and razor-sharp, Mordecai Richler-esque satire.”
As a musician, Berner is mainly known as a practitioner of the “klezmer-punk” style, which combines the traditional folk music of Eastern European Jews with punk’s aggressive energy and disdain for slick perfection. The new album Canadiana Grotesquica is a brief departure. Berner describes it as a “country-tinged singer-songwriter affair."