Inspired by dramatic/noir themes, the material on this album is the product of improvised collaboration between four musicians. The album’s dramatic feel is well supported thanks to the vocal storytelling/sprachspiel vocals of Christine Duncan.
The instrumentation of the album is well suited for the effect-inspired treatment of some tracks. Jean Martin’s sound and turntable effects, vocal improvisation, acoustic guitar effects and reverbs all contribute. The instrumentation also easily lends itself to a rock/jazz set-up and, for the most part, the drum-set beat is the most stable element on the recording, giving rhythm to the improvised elements of the group.
Freely improvised spoken vocal parts are purposely banal most of the time, switching easily between daily chatter and blues inspired grooves. It’s good to hear that Duncan can be both hysterically simple and expansive vocally, suggesting that the group’s live performances must inhabit a strong theatrical element.
A pre-recorded sample on the track “Invisible” – of cursing or having an argument in an Eastern European language – is part of one of the most ingenious moments on the album.
At times the album sounds like a rock band, due to the electric guitar and a steady ‘classic’ drum-set rhythm except when the vocalist breaks off into free improvisation, sounding like she is doing Inuit throat singing. While the bass and drums parts set a dark and steady tone throughout the album, turntables bring an outside music source to the mood set by the musicians. The album features Christine Duncan’s vocal abilities to its utmost, and it is those abilities that make the whole listening experience truly fascinating.
TOP TEN by Exclaim Magazine 2006
I’m A Navvy, picked by Exclaim! Magazine as one of the top ten Experimenta l/ Avant-Garde albums of 2006.
TOP TEN by Delire Actuel 2006
I’m A Navvy, picked by Delire Actuel Magazine as one of the top ten Experimental/Avant-Garde albums of 2006, CFLX, Quebec
Recorded in Toronto ON Canada @ Chemical Sound, March 10-11, 2005 Engineered by Ross Murray and J. Heidebrecht Mixed by Jean Martin at the Farm, 163 Sterling Rd. Toronto, ON Mastered by David Travers-Smith Photos and Art by Jean Martin
REVIEW by François Couture for all music guide, (US) June 2006.
For their second album as Barnyard Drama, husband-and-wife team Jean Martin (drums) and Christine Duncan (vocals) recruited two bold, creative, and highly compatible electric guitarists: Justin Haynes and Bernard Falaise. Fans of the latter's work in avant-prog groups like Miriodor and Les Projectionnistes may feel a bit at a loss when approaching this album, but those who know him for his involvement in various Ambiances Magnétiques-related improvisation projects will recognize here some of his best work of late in that vein.
Barnyard Drama's debut album (Memories and a List of Things to Do) was a fascinating variation on avant-jazz, focusing on Duncan's stunning range (from a seductive torch singer to a hysterical child) and Martin's light drumming and turntables. I'm a Navvy has a lot more bite, and not only thanks to the guitarists: Duncan is more exuberant, Martin occasionally pounds harder, and the group's sound as a whole is grittier and more urgent. The album contains nine songs -- yes, songs, with lyrics, melodies and developments -- even though improvisation also plays a key part in each one of them. Highlights include the scary title opener, the beat-driven "The Blues," and the near-epic "Invisible." Duncan's shapeshifting voice (extremely girlish in "Butt'ry Burning," animal in "I'm a Navvy," velvety in the Rodgers & Hart standard "Little Girl Blue") is always at the center of the music, revealing a unique singer and powerful performer.
This album is bursting with creativity and talent, while striking a good balance between odd songwriting and free playing. Simply put, I'm a Navvy is a must, and a very serious year-end list contender.
REVIEW By Glen Hall - Exclaim magazine Nov.2006
If anyone wanted a snapshot of improvisational music in Canada at its best, here it is. Longtime duo turned quartet, with the addition of guitarists Justin Haynes and Bernard Falaise, Barnyard Drama is the gold standard of new improvisation in this country, and probably elsewhere, as well, if we Canadians weren¹t so darned modest. Not only do they create soundscapes of profound breadth and depth, they imbue them with sonic and conceptual drama that subverts the group¹s self-effacing name.
Their tunes are dramatic with a capital D. Vocalist Christine Duncan defies vocal categorization; she¹s an instrumentalist who holds her own in the most abstract of improv settings. And the dual guitarists draw her formidable skills out, from lip-fiddling to throat Œyodeling¹, in ways that elude verbalization. And isn¹t this the point of music? To transcend the verbal?
Drummer Jean Martin is capable of making music happen in the most unlikely ways. Yet, here, he is organically connected to the goings-on in a way that draws out his innate playfulness. And Martin¹s deft production expertise has rendered the whole proceedings haunting and ethereal.
Barnyard Drama has taken a bold step away from its duo inception. But the move looks super-good on them. The guitars bring out in the innate bluesiness of a group that could be mistaken for a neu-improv anomaly. Highly recommended.