Homeshake – ‘The Homeshake Tape’

Review by Andrew Patterson

“Won’t soul music change, now that our souls have turned strange?” asks the Silver Jews’ David Berman on their 1998 album American Water.

On one side, the recent success of people like Charles Bradley would suggest that the traditions and purposes of soul music have remained very much intact. After a few decades of commercial dilution and subsequent feelings of veneration for the ‘classics’, it seems that room has been made for traditional soul music to flourish in our strange world.

Alternatively, you have the more relative success of Mac Demarco, whose music is undoubtedly indebted to the same music Charles Bradley & Co. are emulating, though in a decidedly less straightforward way.

Even further along the soul spectrum, way off in the hazy outer recesses, is the warbled, eerily smooth rock of Peter Sagar aka Homeshake. Peter plays second strings for Mac Demarco and, like Demarco’s most recent effort, his music as Homeshake hints ever-so-slightly at the golden soul era (particularly in the pocketed bass lines). Not surprisingly, Peter has had a musical career that sounds as though it were lifted straight from the biography of an unsung soul hero of the late 60’s and early 70’s:

Peter makes a splash at a young age penning and performing stellar B-side hits for a tight, uptown group called Outdoor Miners in Edmonton, Alberta. The local cats go crazy for it. The Miners build steam locally, spark a dance craze, don matching, tailored outfits, and put out two critically lauded seven inches with a small label. Then, for whatever reason, they call it quits.

Disillusioned, drug-addled, Peter carries on solo under the moniker Sans AIDS. He plays dingy, chicken wire watering holes, student bars, Wunderbar; anywhere folks will listen or give him a drink. His shows are attended by a devout few. Singalongs ensue, cassettes full of would-be classics are released, several more obscure press outlets continue to sing his praises; but still, Sagar works for wages at a crumby day job, lives hand-to-mouth and has cast nary a shadow on ‘The Industry’.

Down on luck, Peter and ex-Outdoor Miner Mac Demarco decide to pack up their twangers and head for the sparkly lights of Montreal after a particularly thorny evening involving a swimming pool, a mail truck, a cement block, a local radio personality’s ex-wife and an unpaid tab from a diner called ‘Ronda’s’ (of which Peter recalls very little and Mac recounts differently each time).

In Montreal, Mac cuts a quick and dirty deal for an LP after one of his songs grows wings amongst the local cognoscenti. The record takes off: critics adore it, the dance stations glue it down to their turntables, the hit numbers bark out of shop windows on St.Laurent, the slow jams play gingerly in the background of smokey restaurants, small children are heard whistling Mac’s melodies as they skip home.

Soon enough, Mac and Peter head out on a whirlwind tour, selling out clubs overseas, appearing at major festivals. They are the talk of the Parisian art world, the focus of several Belgian radio documentaries, dinner guests of an influential Spanish architect and even have their faces embossed on a short run of commemorative coins in Uzbekistan.

All the while, Peter refuses to lose touch with his own muses. At home, on a rare week off from their hectic schedule, Peter puts his heart to tape in a shadowy recording studio set up in a condemned loft just north of Montreal’s burgeoning arts village.

Peter’s performance is fuelled by his trademark bedheaded reluctance and weed-induced paranoia. The songs are pure and they are captured with a faithful wobble; they tell stories of frozen beards, bad luck, nights spent indoors and, of course, his tender love and affection.

The Homeshake Tape, as it came to be known, may be seen by some as a minor success, a promising and rather charming debut release. To others, like myself, it is a marvellous distillation of marginalized charm, a collection of honey-sweet jams you can really settle into after a long day, perfectly bittersweet ballads that encapsulate the feeling of what it is to be young and full of talent with nowhere in particular to go.

In short, it’s exactly the type of release one has come to expect from the unrecognized, undisputed (and decidedly underwhelmed) reigning king of strange Canadian soul music.