Sometimes you just have to take the bull by the horns.
For veteran singer-songwriter, author and part-time poet Jay Aymar, that time is now. And the stellar result is his game-changing sixth album Your Perfect Matador.
"This is the album I've long wanted to create," says the Toronto resident. "I wanted these songs to live in a heavier, deeper atmosphere. There is an intentional cinematic feel to this record, from the moment I arrive at her graffiti filled village to the moment it fades into the rear view. From hope to pain and back again, it's all here."
And then some. The acclaimed wordsmith and performer pulls out all the creative stops on these nine tracks, spinning a poetic fable of seduction, obsession and addiction— while washing it down with a narcotic cocktail of edgy post-Americana, swampy southern roots-rock and even menacing soul-funk. Hazy, bloody, apocalyptic and transfixing, Aymar's spiritual odyssey through doomed love aligns him with such darkly kindred spirits as Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits, while making Your Perfect Matador the ideal soundtrack to the next season of a haunting detective drama, or the next dark night of your soul.
Aymar didn't get there alone. Formidable producer Michael Phillip Wojewoda (Barenaked Ladies, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Rheostatics, Amelia Curran) helped construct the sonic cathedrals, theatres and wastelands beneath these stories. "Working with a world-class producer like Michael has been an extremely rewarding experience," Aymar says. "He has a gift for putting the artist at ease and drawing out the inner musical vision. Or as he puts it: 'Coaxing performances out of fragile egos.' I love that. It really does sum it up." Also on board: A resonant, responsive band featuring a who’s who of Toronto’s finest musicians, supporting Aymar's rhythm guitar and his deep rasp. "Add to that three of my favourite artists— Chloe Charles, Alejandra Ribera and Shakura S'aida — and string arrangements by Drew Jurecka, and how can a guy go wrong?"
Like many a magnum opus, it was a long time coming. And a long way from Aymar's humble beginnings as the youngest of eight siblings in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. "The only way I was going to get any airtime was by having a magic trick," he recalls. "One day my brother came home with a guitar that was riddled battle scars and after he taught me a few chords I was off to the races. It coincided with a time when I was reading and writing a lot of fiction, which culminated with my graduating with an English lit degree from Carleton University. I believe it was these life circumstances that led me toward songwriting as my artistic medium of choice."
After being discovered via aCBCsong writing contest and releasing his first album, his path seemed clear. “I was getting national airplay and performing with some legendary artists but I didn't take it too seriously back then. I didn't look at it as something viable at that time. The vision dimmed. I was a nine to fiver, performing shows around Ontario and feeling creatively stifled. I was so much older then."
At his lowest — "I’d lost my creativity; I was in a loveless relationship; my palette was devoid of colours," he says — then suddenly everything changed. Ian Tyson recorded his song My Cherry Coloured Rose in 2008. It was the boost he needed. "Ian called me and told me he liked a lot of my songs. Over the course of our conversation, he offered the insight that pursuing music would be akin to a vow of poverty - but good things follow good intentions. If an icon tells you something, you take it under serious consideration. I guess you could call him a catalyst. So, in short order, I sold my possessions and hit the open road for 10 years. I felt like Kerouac, hitting every little town around North America: a true bohemian existence. It was pretty crazy."
Along the way he stopped long enough to make more albums — 2008's Halfway Home, 2011's Passing Through, 2013's Overtime — and in 2015 to pen the road-dog memoir The Chicken Came First, which included a live CD. More crucially: "During the journey, I met the woman who would re-ignite my spirit. With my creativity awoken, my only desire would be to document our love in song. This collection of songs represents that moment in time," he says. "I crafted these songs over the course of five years. They were finely tuned until they were finally done."
He's relieved to let them go. "I feel like the matador who’s left the ring with visible reminders of the battle. Reminders of the love we shared. I want people to feel these songs; to consume them slowly over time. After repeated listens I’m sure they will reveal their deeper meanings. The universal story we all share: The war for love.”
Jay Aymar is a singer-songwriter born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie ON, currently living on the road. He performs with his roots band primarily throughout Canada and the United States to over 120 shows per year at clubs, theatres and festivals.
As an acoustic guitar player and singer, he is known primarily for his rich lyrical content His songs cover themes central to everyday life, love, spirituality and the human condition. His songs are often influenced by classic literary themes and the touring troubadour lifestyle.
He released his first studio album in 1996 and has since released four more studio albums and one live album accompanied by a book of road stories.
His album Halfway Home garnered a 2010 Canadian Folk Music Award nomination for Best Emerging Artist. He countered this with an album meant to booked that release entitled Passing Through (2011), a folk blues hybrid record. 2013 saw the release of a trad acoustic roots album entitled Overtime (2013) exploring themes of the troubadour lifestyle.
In 2015 Aymar released a book of short stories of what he calls: Faction. The Chicken Came First (and other half-truths of my life as a touring songwriter)
From the preface:
"After touring relentlessly year after year, the lifestyle soon weaves itself into the fabric of your art. The people you meet and the stories you share often become part of your collective consciousness. In my opinion, this pursuit in and of itself IS the art. Historically I've chosen songwriting as my medium of expression, but I've long gravitated toward prose as an alternative method of expression.
For these short stories, I've intentionally blurred real life experiences with heaping helpings of fiction. It not only protects the innocent, it allows me to fuse varying experiences into one story. If you're going to write a tall fishing tale, it had better be Moby Dick."
NEW ALBUM, NEW HORIZONS
Aymar is currently in the studio recording his latest full studio album entitled Your Perfect Matador. A collection of what he refers to as 'deeply personal love songs.' Recorded in Toronto's Union Studios with producer Michael Phillip Wojewoda (Buffy Sainte-Marie, Barenaked Ladies, Amelia Curran) this promises to deliver Aymar's biggest vision yet.
"This is the album I've long wanted to create. There is an intentional narrative to this record with a distinct beginning. middle and end. It truly is a song-cycle in that each piece contributes to the arc of the narrative. From the moment I arrive to her graffiti filled village to the moment it fades into the rear view. From hope to pain and back again. It's all here.
Musically I wanted to reintroduce the tougher electric sound of my earlier work as I felt the depth of these songs required an edgier soundscape. My admiration for the electric guitar is no secret and these songs were written with this vision in mind. Although many of the songs lent themselves to the blues idiom I worked diligently with Michael the band to add rootsy soft strokes to the overall vibe. Add to that three of my favourite female vocalists (Chloe Charles, Alejandra Ribera and Shakura S'aida) and I feel we've created a beautiful artistic statement. Think Jackson Pollock meets Emily Carr meets Roger Waters. That's really the best way to describe it!"
"There is no quibble about raising him to the higher rungs on the steep ladder of Canadian singer-songwriters, not just his contemporaries but of all time."
Doug Swanson (Penguin Eggs Magazine)
"This alone should elevate Jay Aymar to front and center stage where the likes of John Prine, Randy Newman and all the others I tiresomely mentioned stand. He’s that good."
John Apice, No Depression Magazine
"Aymar is a classic, and Overtime is a knockdown priced master-work."
David Farrell, New Canadian Music
“Talk about your extensive liner notes! Aymar’s latest, a live one, doesn’t have a booklet, it has a book. Yes, a real, full-length, full-sized book. Actually, it’s more of a case of the book also including a CD, but whatever. It’s the best way to take in everything Aymar does. He’s a storyteller, writing, singing, or in person."
The Chicken Came First Book / LIve CD review. Veteran CBC broadcaster, reviewer Bob Mersereau.
"Ontario-based singer-songwriter Aymar sounds something like an amalgamation of Tom Rush, Jesse Winchester and Guy Clark. "This Town Ain't Big Enough" has the Caribbean lilt of Winchester's "I'm Gonna Miss You, Girl," for example, and "All I Know" is broadly reminiscent of his "Defying Gravity." The arrangements have the exquisite blend of stark simplicity and sly sophistication that one associates with the above-named masters.”
Jerome Clark, author, songwriter, music critic, Rambles Magazine
There aren’t many singers like Jay Aymar.
First of all, he’s a talker. He’d rather have a good conversation with you than sing, because he’ll probably get the idea for a good song out of it.
Secondly, he’s not a kid, and he’s not seeing the world through rose-coloured glasses. He’s been around the block? Yes, sir, that’s Jay Aymar. Twenty years of shows, twenty years of good friends everywhere he goes.
Thirdly, Jay Aymar’s a bit like you and I, except that he travels more, sings songs that spring from a long tradition established by those who've long championed the underdog and will always stop to talk with a stranger.
Then, he'll take you on a roller coaster ride between laughter and tears during the three minutes it takes him to sing a song that came to him as he drove from Toronto to Austin.
Jay’s been described as an 'everyman' as he gets his songs from the people he meets, and they are as complicated — and simple — as the drifter on the trail or the writer hidden in the corner of a small café. So far, there have been five albums of these songs of fact and fiction, rooted in particular places and times.
In 2015 he wrote a book with an accompanying live CD: The Chicken Came First (and other half-truths from my life as a touring songwriter.)
The book showcased his love of prose and sold 800 copies within it's first six months of release.
The accompanying live album was performed in a small church on the outskirts of Toronto, Canada. It followed his three breakthrough CDs, Halfway Home, Passing Through and Overtime. He's currently working with producer Michael Phillip Wojewoda for his next studio album entitle 'Your Perfect Matador' slated for a January 2018 release.
|As reviewers appropriately comment, his songs hint at Leonard Cohen with a whispered echo of Woody Guthrie. Perhaps he's attempting to bridge that gap.
And then off he's again. Big cities small towns and all points in between. There’ll be midnight campfires throughout the warmer months, late night conversations in obscure hotel lounges that dot the country. There’ll be jokes in the bar after the concert, and someone else will bring a story and perhaps some of their own songs. On this subject in his book he quotes his favourite Texas songwriter Guy Clark "There ain't no money in poetry, but that's what sets the poet free."
Aymar knows how it goes. He knows the people he’ll meet and the conversations he’ll have. The details and the detritus of the road.
Look for him in your travels and when you meet him, give him what he deserves: a story, a joke, a conversation about where we’re all going, and in exchange for that he’ll illuminate your world with a song.
Richard Flohil (2017)