Protest Singer Takes on Contemporary Subjects – and a Dash of Humour
By Ruth Schweitzer – June 12, 2018 printed in Canadian Jewish News – Brian Gladstone may still favour tie-dye T-shirts that were fashionable when he came of age in the 1960s, but musically the singer-songwriter has moved with the times, updating the protest song by tackling contemporary subjects.
On his new album, Brianology, a recording that also includes some lighthearted material, Gladstone devotes tracks to environmental degradation, to Canada’s fallen soldiers and to cruelty to animals.
Behind the Maple Leaf Slaughterhouse Doors uses nursery rhyme references to depict the cruelty that occurs in an abattoir. It makes for compelling listening.
Gladstone got the idea for the song after he watched a Santa Claus Parade in Toronto and was disturbed by floats sponsored by meat packers and slaughterhouses, at a time he was considering becoming a vegan. “They had chickens and cows dancing and having fun. In my mind there’s a lot of suffering and cruelty in the meat industry and I wanted to bring attention to it, and I thought what the meat packers were saying was sending out the wrong message to children,” said Gladstone, who’s now a vegan.
But vegans are failing to get their message across with promotional campaigns that highlight shocking images of animals being mistreated and slaughtered, he said. “If you’ve ever seen vegan material, it’s pictures of animals bleeding. I believe in the cause so much and I can’t even watch that stuff.”
When Gladstone wrote Behind the Maple Leaf Slaughterhouse Doors, he aimed to come up with something that people would pay attention to until the end. The song “sends a message and it’s also entertaining, without the shock value,” he said.
Pointing out that vegans don’t have an anthem or rallying song, he said he’s in the process of shooting a video for the song. “We’re hoping it’s going to become a vegan anthem,” he said.
Gladstone wrote another of the album’s songs, Just Another Man, after driving home from the East Coast on the Highway of Heroes on the 401. In this well-written anti-war song, he contends that the stretch of highway isn’t a fitting tribute to Canada’s fallen soldiers.
After he saw a video of his grandson taking his first steps, Gladstone penned New Boy, a song about the legacy of environmental destruction that we’re leaving future generations.
On the lighter side of Brianology, the tune Waiting for Summer is a toe-tapper that’s an ode to Chuck Berry. It’s been getting airplay at college radio stations across Canada.
Don’t Bypass My Aorta is a tongue-in-cheek love song that’s a double entendre, also referring to the heart attack Gladstone had in 2014, days after he turned 65. It’s dedicated to his cardiologist. He said the heart attack caused him to re-evaluate his priorities, change his eating habits —he used to live on junk food and soft drinks – and lose weight.
He reflects on musicians of the hippie era in Lydney (Old Rockers Never Die), a song about the retired rock stars who live in Welsh town of Lydney. Gladstone visited there in 2012 and came away with the impression that “everybody there had never had a day job and they had all been professional musicians all their lives. I realized it was rock ’n’ roll heaven.”
Brianology, with it’s cheerful psychedelic-style cover designed by Gladstone, is a guitar album that showcases his fingerpicking style. The founder of Toronto’s annual Winterfolk blues and roots music festival, Gladstone wrote nine of the songs on the CD. He co-wrote Behind the Maple Leaf Slaughterhouse Doors and Lightning Man, about inventor and physicist Nikola Tesla, with his co-producer Tony Quarrington, an ace guitarist. Joy and Delight, a tender ballad about an ill-fated romance, is Quarrington’s composition.
Brianology is a collection of love songs, upbeat tunes, ballads and thoughtful protest material in a diverse range of musical styles – folk, rock, country, bluegrass and ragtime. The album’s variety makes for entertaining listening and an exciting ride. n
The album will be released at Hugh’s Room Live on June 14. For tickets, visit hughsroomlive.com. To download or order the CD, visit briangladstone.com.