TORONTO, ON, Canada - Tracing the roots of the members of Rattlesnake Choir is like tracing the history of American music during the last quarter of the 20th century. Their Rocking/Roots driven sound is informed as much by The Stooges and The Rolling Stones as it is by Townes Van Zandt and Bob Dylan. Their third album - The Prospector’s Curse - out September 25, 2015 on Cameron House Records – finds the band exploring some cinematic new musical territory.
The Prospector’s Curse began as the soundtrack to Toronto filmmaker Josh Hiese’s Western horror of the same name. “Josh was looking for someone to score his film and went to the Cameron House website in search rootsy bands. He was intrigued but the name Rattlesnake Choir and called me out of the blue having never heard the band’s music,” says singer and songwriter John Borra. “We had a brief discussion and quickly realized we were on the same page about the approach of the music for the film and away we went”.
After the film was done, the band was so pleased with the outcome they decided it should be released as an album. They flushed out some of the tunes, recorded some lyrical songs and a new album was born. “I was thinking in terms of records like David Bowie’s Low or Heroes that have two distinct sides, one lyrical and one instrumental,” says Borra.
Having recorded their first two albums, Live Music (2008) and Walkin’ The Wire (2011), in a fully analogue studio, straight to magnetic recording tape, they decided to embrace a more modern overdub-style recording technique for The Prospector’s Curse that allowed for some new musical flavors and instrumentation.
Produced and recorded by John Borra in bass player Tony Benattar’s magical sounding front room, the record is a spooky trip through the prospector’s soul that takes Rattlesnake Choir’s musical palette to some exciting new places. The piano driven Slow Sad Blues is the first single and kicks off the record with a jaunty lament. The upbeat Near And Afar, the passionate waltz When The Cows Come Home and the dark and haunting Down For You get things going before turning the record over to its instrumental side. What follows is a suite of songs that seem to come from a world where Ennio Morricone listens to Nick Cave while drinking wine in a gypsy café.
Back is the usual crew of John Borra (Vocals and Guitar), Sam Ferrara (Slinky, Saw and Cheese grater), Tony Benattar (Bass and Dobro), Michael Boguski (Piano and Accordion) and Miranda Mulholland (Violin). Also joining them is the lovely Dani Nash, who sings on Down For You and plays Mandolin with the band live.
The album’s artwork was created by world renown Beat artist, Ed Adler. Ed, had already incorporated members of the Rattlesnakes into some of his cowboy themed saloon paintings, making his gorgeous artwork a perfect match for The Prospector’s Curse.
One of the most intriguing things about Rattlesnake Choir is the rich musical history of its members. Percussionist Sam Ferrara started his musical life playing bass in a band called The Marquees in 1970. They did the Tavern circuit in Ontario, Canada along with strippers and bands like Rush and Triumph playing mostly six nighter’s with a matinee on Saturday afternoon; “We were on the road non-stop for five years and we never left Ontario,” says Ferrara. In 1975 he was a founding member of The Ugly (one of the first Punk bands anywhere) and then joined The Viletones playing on their second ep Look Back In Anger in 1978 before forming his own Screamin’ Sam in 1980.
Singer John Borra started playing bass in the Post-Punk Underground of the early 80’s (A Neon Rome), caught the wave of the early 90’s when the underground became popular music (Change Of Heart, Groovy Religion) and then discovered a deep love of the straight ahead song approach of Hank Williams, Bob Dylan and Townes Van Zandt. He has released two records with his John Borra Band, 1999’s Band and 2002’s One Night At Seven In The Morning. His songs have been recorded by Whitney Rose, Corin Raymond and Nadine Kellman. He has also continued to work as a bass player, playing with the likes of Ron Sexsmith, The Cash Brothers, Serena Ryder and many more.
Though Sam and John had played together off and on since the mid 90’s, it was a weekly residency at Toronto’s hip spot The Communist’s Daughter that really cemented their musical partnership and soon gave birth to the expanded Rattlesnake Choir in 2006 with bass player and partner in arms Tony Benattar at its core. Tony and Sam had played together in Cameron Family Singers and he was a perfect fit for the Rattlesnakes. Tony had recently come back to music after spending the good part of the 80’s and 90’s establishing the internationally known Liberty Boot Company making high-end cowboy boots for the stars and common folk with good taste. Tony is rock and roll to the core and likes to describe Rattlesnake Choir as “a rock and roll band with acoustic instruments.”
Miranda Mulholland (Great Lake Swimmers, Belle Starr) and Michael Boguski (Blue Rodeo, The Beauties) round out this quintet and bring their own histories and influence to this already diverse band. “I like to say that, if Jimi Hendrix played the violin he’d be a red headed woman from Guelph,” says Borra of Miranda. Glenn Milchem from Blue Rodeo said it best when he quipped “Michael Boguski plays like his life depends on it”. Also joining the band on nights when Michael and Miranda are unavailable are Dani Nash (Vocals and Mandolin) and Jay Swinnerton (Piano).
The fact that Rattlesnake Choir is on Cameron House Records is no coincidence. They all have a deep history with The Cameron House; a venerable Toronto Art/Music watering hole and artist residence going back to the early 80’s. “I was barely 17 when I first played there in 1983 and I’ve played there ever since” says Borra. Sam started playing and hanging out there in the early 80’s, has done an annual art show there since 1994 for his metal sculpture and was in The Cameron Family Singers for 15 years with bass player Tony Benattar. Tony has also done numerous art shows at The Cameron House featuring his Liberty Boots along with Artist Ed Adler.
Mike McKeown who heads the label notes, "I'd say John Borra is one of Canada's greatest treasures when it comes to song writing. These guys have helped shape what the Toronto roots scene looks like today and without people like John, Sam, and Tony, the Cameron House wouldn't exist as it is. They are part of the generation that brought us Handsome Ned. These guys get it and they've helped pass the torch to folks like me and our younger generation of music fans, music makers, and art lovers." “I LOVE your new album – it’s absolutely beautiful.” adds label mate, Whitney Rose.
The Prospector’s Curse comes out on September 25, 2015 on Cameron House Records
"I’m really happy with this record" says Borra, "I feel like a lot of things conspired for us on this one."
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