The Acorn Set the Board, Jennifer Castle Checkmated @ St. Alban’s


By Q-ba

With the season’s first snowfall, Jennifer Castle and The Acorn provided warming performances at St. Alban’s Church last Friday.

The show opened with Rolf Klausener, lead singer of The Acorn, taking the stage for two solo tracks. After a brief dialogue with the audience, taking the temperature of the room and inspired by the film Interstellar, he broke with “Cobbled From Dust” — an overture befitting the musical journey we were about to embark on. With his electric guitar strumming high, his voice echoed gently yet in a booming fashion filling the upper chambers of the church, setting the tone for the evening. For his last solo track, Rolf waxed and waned the thought of playing recently finished piece he had yet to memorize until the crowd cheered him forward. With a blues-rock feel the guitar sunk low, breaking free during the bridge giving way to emotions that had been wanting to escape.

With Rolf warmed up and the crowd engaged, the rest of The Acorn took the stage settling into a slow and mellow ambient mood accompanied by lyrics of internal hope and peace. That was followed with the self-titled single from their acclaimed 2010 album No Ghost, reinforcing set and setting. By this point I had melted into the church pew like Green Army Men forged together in the inferno of a microwave. By the tracks’ watermark, the pew and I were one. As the show progressed, The Acorn began to unwind from the intense weather as the audience nestled in their seats. By the sixth track, “Second Fiddle,” they became increasingly rockier, streams of light reflected from Rolf’s guitar deep into St. Alban’s as he swayed to the rhythm.

At the show’s peak, you could see the diversity of sounds The Acorn is able to produce. After becoming familiar with them in open, outdoor settings, that night they played to the energy in the room and the serene setting of the church. The Acorn guided us through an evening of open dialogue, introductions, soothing sounds and penetrating bass lines that radiated like a mantra. The Acorn is a delight to watch, conscious of the audience yet capable of losing themselves in their music — siphoning through a repertoire of three albums and counting to give the people what they want.

After a pause, Jennifer Castle wasted no time taking the stage, strumming her guitar with old blues hands and stringing melodies with a sweet-smokey honey voice that trembled the earth. With her opening track the room fell utterly silent, so quiet the scratching of my pen on paper became audible during the valleys of pristine delta Blues.

The second track, “Truth is the Freshest Fruit,” followed a soft transition picking up the pace towards a deeper exploration into sound and lyrics, softening its pace before finishing with a fresh new step towards “You Don’t Have To Be,” a folk-inspired track that brought flashing images to the new world of the late 50s, when society as a whole was on the move, action in waiting. Where the first set of tracks gave us a sample of her range, the fourth track “Down this Old Road Feeling Bad” in a capella, gave us an opportunity to witness her full range as she painted a portrait of the inner struggles we endure to move from action into being. This sentiment continues on “Working for the Man” and “Waterfalls,” the latter inspired by T.S. Elliot’s “The Naming of Cats.” Actually, the essence of the poem could be felt throughout her performance.

As the show progressed, it became increasingly hard to imagine her in another venue. St. Alban’s fit her talents perfectly with her vocals echoing with a pastor’s vigour yet with the sharpness of a chorus. I completely lost track of the people in the room, all I could feel was her voice intermittently broken by guitar chords like a beacon me calling home. She sang with old soul that grew with intensity throughout the performance arc. Each track was positioned to tell a story of an individual in transition, from acknowledging truth of self, heeding calls for action to self-discovery. The concert progressed defining an experience of growth, a sentiment which came to light on her ninth track, the height of the evening, “Powers.” From there she broke away to “Pink City” marking the beginning of the end.

From the outset, the crowd was enraptured by her mystique, hanging onto each melody weaving a story behind her salty smooth vocals. My experience can best relate to drinking fine bourbon. Her songs in a capella were exceptionally soothing. The guitar merely accentuated her storytelling abilities, playing a variety of blues, folk with a mixture of sweet and soulful vocals contorting to each song. So much so when she returned to the stage for an encore, the audience cheered for another unplugged song. Jennifer Castle presented herself as a true Canadian songstress with a richness that can warm you on the dreariest of days.