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March 6

Beatroute: Cape Breton trio comes together as a band and signs to major label


By Liam Prost, Beatroute

Established singer-songwriters find room for one another by balancing strengths. Photo: Mat Dunlap

Established singer-songwriters find room for one another by balancing strengths.
Photo: Mat Dunlap

CALGARY – Supergroups have a formula. You take two or more established artists in need of career invigoration, give them a kitschy name (like the Moseying Masseurs) or a quotable project (like covering All Things Must Pass in Korean, backed by a choir of didgeridoos) and you are essentially done. This formula has had its share of successes to be sure, but some of the best supergroups work backwards, finding success as a collective of multiple talented singer-songwriters, and eventually leading to several successful careers. Port Cities is one of the latter, albeit in the early stages.

Carleton Stone’s slick song-writing has been seeping its way through the East Coast music circuit for a few years now, and his 2014 release Draws Blood crept up nationally into number 1 on CBC Radio 2’s top 20. Stone is perhaps the most prominent songwriting-wise on the record, and his quippy turns of phrase and subtle lyrical references to classics like Blood on the Tracks (1975) keep the record earnest and grounded, even in its low moments.

Dylan Guthro fills out much of the music instrumentally with his sprightly guitar work. His general influence is broad and his soulful vocal affection adds breadth to the band’s three-part harmonies. His lineage is perhaps the most written-about aspect of his work, but it does a disservice to the character and effusiveness of his contribution.

Breagh MacKinnon centres the Port Cities experience. A classically trained jazz performer, she lovingly works the ivories into the record’s most effective and tender moments. But her voice is the real spectacle. She has all of the warmth and colour of her jazz roots, but also the range and strength of a pop singer with a surprising restraint when she is harmonizing behind her two bandmates.

Each member of the Cape Breton three-piece has had their share of success, with a tableful of EMCA nominations and several solo releases between them, but with barely two years as Port Cities, the band has hit critical mass much more than the sum of their strings. Their self-titled record just dropped on Warner Music and they are about to hit the road with Rose Cousins, fresh off a much-lauded new release of her own.

The three began their musical relationship at Gordie Sampson’s iconic songcamp in 2011. [READ MORE]