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Bahamas hits soulful paydirt on latest album Earthtones

Afie Jurvanen, known by his stage name Bahamas, is performing at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium Friday. EMMETT MALLOY
Afie Jurvanen, known by his stage name Bahamas, is performing at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium Friday. EMMETT MALLOY - Contrbuted

Just talking to Afie Jurvanen, the mastermind behind Bahamas, in the darkest depths of winter is bound to make one wish for more tropical climes.

Especially when the Toronto musician is still coasting on warm memories of his year-ending tour down under with Jack Johnson, and now has Earthtones, a new sunbaked set of Los Angeles-recorded songs to bring to his sold-out Friday show at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium, with guest Old Man Luedecke.

“I went fishing for four days in New Zealand just before the tour started, and that was kind of like winning the lottery there. I think I really nailed that one,” chuckles Jurvanen, who doesn’t feel so bad about being back in -20 C conditions with a full North American tour looming on the horizon.

“Of course the Australian shows were all very good; travelling there is a lot like Canada. The cities are all really spread out and there’s not as many people. It’s just a big country with a lot of ground to cover before you can play another gig. We did 10 or 11 shows and by the end of it everyone was feeling pretty cooked, but they were good shows with fun crowds.”

Jurvanen’s last appearance before a Nova Scotia crowd was only six or so months ago, headlining last summer’s Stan Rogers Folk Festival in Canso, and although Earthtones was already done and dusted, awaiting its eventual release on Jan. 19, he was very guarded in talking about the new music. But he was also unable to hide his enthusiasm for it, calling it the best work he’s ever done.

An early listen to the record proves his level of anticipation was not exaggerated. Earthtones was recorded in Los Angeles in the fall of 2016 with the stellar rhythm section of former Who bassist Pino Palladino and veteran R& B drummer James Gadson, followed by an additional session with his road band in Prague, and the results are confessional, conversational and deeply soulful in a way that draws you in and keeps you hooked from one track to the next.

So it’s a groove record, made with a couple of pros whose work both speaks for, and refuses to call attention to, itself. And nothing could really prepare Jurvanen for the experience of working with them.

“I feel like the process is always like that for me. I always have ideas of how (a record) is gonna be but once you get into it, the process tells you what it’s going to be like,” he says. “The catalyst was working with those musicians in Los Angeles and it just got the juices flowing for me as a writer.

“That’s just a fun position to be in, to imagine what they would do, and of course they did nothing like what I’d imagined. They did amazing, totally other things that surpassed what I could have come up with. And that was kind of the whole point, to give myself over to the process.”

In an amusing handwritten note Jurvanen provided as part of Earthtones’ promotional material, he gives credit to longtime manager, producer and confidante Robbie Lackritz for coming up with the idea of teaming with Palladino and Gadson, based mainly on their track record as D’Angelo’s rhythm section.

“He’s always throwing ideas out there and, like, 80 per cent of them I’m just shooting down,” Jurvanen says with a laugh. “But there’s a handful that are just on the mark, and I told him to go for it and see what he could do.

“The reality of it is, a lot of those guys are just working musicians. They’re players, and they’re still playing, and you just call them up. I mean, it’s really that easy. We got ahold of them, got them some music, and they were digging it, and we found three days to get together.”

The raw tracks recorded in L.A. further inspired the rest of the Bahamas road band to slip into the same soulful groove when they were able to find some time in a Prague recording studio while on an extensive European tour, and the results are seamless.

The overall tone of the record is inspired by Jurvanen’s recent listening habits, mainly a lot of modern R& B and hip-hop, filtered through his own laid-back and witty persona. The sound he was after was modern, made easer by the fact that Palladino is still a gigging musician who in more recent years has worked with the likes of John Mayer and Nine Inch Nails, while Gadson’s CV stretches from Marvin Gaye and Bill Withers to Beck and Lady Gaga.

“I didn’t want to make a throwback record, or a vintage record,” he says. “So how do you do that? I play the guitar, which is how I approach writing songs, and generally that’s how I think about them, through guitar-based music.

“But those guys play at such a high level,

they’re not referencing anything. It’s not like they’re trying to play like Motown or anything else. They’re just themselves and I think that’s the cool thing, being around people who are able to transcend genre and transcend time, in a way. I hope that the record sounds good 20 years from now. I hope that all my records age well.

“That’s what you always want, to be able to put something on and basically not have it piss you off. You want to hear the music, and not the production or all the background of what it is.”

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