When Jeffery Straker comes to Port Alberni to play Char’s Landing on Friday, July 17, the award-winning singer songwriter will be most excited to get his hands on the 1959 Baldwin baby grand piano in the converted church.
Originally from small-town Saskatchewan, the classically-trained pianist was raised by a church organist mother and auctioneer father. He swears he was born under the piano on the family farm.
After university, with singing far from his mind, Straker moved to Toronto “and for the first time discovered the singer songwriter scene.
“I was one of those people who plodded along. I was so into my classical piano studies but I never actually thought there were other people besides the ones on the radio singing and writing songs,” he said.
“It was amazing.”
Straker used open mic nights to test his material—and still does. He tries new material out on live audiences during his performances too.
He says his latest CD, North Star Falling, is a departure from what he usually writes.
“It’s certainly an evolution,” he said.
It’s an evolution that has been well received from the public: in the first couple of weeks after its release North Star Falling made it to the top 10 of iTunes summer songwriter chart for Canada, “which was a first for me,” he said.
A little bit of brash coupled with some ballads and slick musicianship has given Straker a winner. It wasn’t always looking that way.
In April 2014 thieves stole Straker’s laptop and two backup drives, which had 60 songs he had written for a new album.
He tried re-writing some of the material, but found “it just wasn’t working; I couldn’t get (back) into that head space.”
Straker decided it was best to let it go, and began creating new material on a 104-year-old Heintzman upright piano that was gifted to him last year.
“When I write the songs I’ll write them at the piano, so it’s me, my piano and my songs,” he explains. Then he searches for a producer “who surrounds my piano with something. I strategically pick these people.”
The differences in production techniques lend themselves to creating a new sound for each disc. Straker purposefully chose producer Dean Drouillard for this latest project. North Star Falling features electric guitars, horns, strings, acoustic guitar and banjo coupled with the piano.
“I kind of knew what he sounds like. I wondered what he plus me would sound like,” says Straker.
“He’s brought a certain maturity to the sound. Dean did bring a signature sound to it.”
Music critics liken Straker to Randy Newman, or even Elton John long before he became Sir.
This latest disc is a more mellow mix than live audiences typically see, leaning toward ballads.
“Straker covers a wide swath of musical territory on this new disc, keeping us wondering where we might go next, while never losing sight of the importance of a finely crafted tune,” said CBC Radio’s Mark Rheaume.
Listeners can expect Straker to throw in some new material along with established songs at Char’s.
“My live show is a real mix of up tempo songs and more mellow ballads,” he said.
Tickets for Straker’s performance are available at Char’s Landing or by calling 250-730-1636.