reviewed by Cory McCrindle
Mike Procyshyn is the metaphorical duck.
Okay, there ya go, probably one of the weirdest music review introductions you’ll ever read. Now I’ll attempt to explain how it perfectly describes the artist in question. Someone once sagely observed that if you look at a swimming duck, it appears to glide calmly across the surface of the water. What you can’t see from your vantage point is that underneath the surface its webbed feet are moving frantically to keep it zooming along. Mike Procyshyn operates in very much the same way. His laidback, warm and friendly demeanour does not betray the fact that so much thought and effort go into everything he writes and plays. The genius of the man is that he makes it all look – and sound – so easy.
The Patron Saint of All Night Diners is Procyshyn’s latest full-length effort, and builds on his previous CD …The Dogs Bark at Echoes. At nine tracks, it’s a good overview of where Mike is at today musically speaking, although given Procyshyn’s deep well of creativity, it may not resemble much of what he ends up doing tomorrow. I had a chance to see Mike play some of his new tracks live awhile back in his hometown of Kenora, Ontario and came away both suitably impressed and soul-nourished. It’s always a pleasure to watch someone do something they love, and you can certainly tell that he loves to reach people by sharing the stories he’s handcrafted into tunes.
The first song on the CD, “I May Laugh a Bit,” is vintage Procyshyn. It’s a decidedly folk-flavoured number, rollickingly plunked out on keyboards. The storyline seems to revolve around romantic confusion fuelled by whatever happens to be on tap. The backing musicianship reminds me of Neil Young’s approach to music in his periodic Crazy Horse phases. The Horse may not be the greatest backing band in the world, but it suits the material just fine because of its perfect imperfections. There’s just enough chaos at play to make it sound like the world’s greatest garage band in the middle of an all night jam session. And there is plenty of rugged beauty to be found in that. Mike Procyshyn’s wonderfully plaintive vocals are assisted by some nifty guitar, warmly rumbling bass and a steady, solid drumming effort. The song bounces along nicely and definitely has an ear worm quality about it. This is the one you’re most likely to replay in your head once it infects you. And it will!
Just to keep you on your toes, Procyshyn heads off in a different direction on the next song, titled “Andromeda.” This may be one of the poppiest songs Mike has ever produced. Mike uses the higher side of his vocal range and sings without his trademark countrified inflection. I also enjoyed the calliope sounding keyboard in this one. Those who have followed Procyshyn’s career and music somewhat may – rightly – be wondering how much influence Mike’s friend and co-conspirator…uh…fellow musician…Jordan McDonald had on this track. If you’re familiar with Jordan’s work, it’s the kind of song you could imagine him coming up with. By the way, McDonald plays bass on five of the tracks on The Patron Saint of All Night Diners although this is not one of them. To me, it’s a good thing for a musician to zig when everyone else thinks they’re going to zag. It shows they aren’t stuck in a rut. Mike pulls this tune off beautifully, although this is certainly a marked departure from what he’s made us used to within his repertoire. It’s a song about a girl. Or a galaxy. And he does it all without any strain.
“Garden” marks a quick return to the style of music that fans of Mike Procyshyn are used to. The song has a country feel to it, and is the kind of hurtin’ song that, to me, is Procyshyn’s most valued currency. Mike can create a song like this one and make you feel good while you are feeling bad. I was hooked once I heard the lyrics “I’ve been sleepin’ in your garden, garden/I’ve been beggin’ for your pardon, pardon/Please come back to me.” The guitar, drums and bass work well together here, although the drumming seem to plod along at times. Still, there are some nice changes in this song and a kickin’ guitar break.
“Marion” begins a run of some slow, sad waltzes in the album. The tune is anchored by guitar but lifted somewhat by atmospheric keyboard. It brings to mind something The Band might have done, perhaps around the Basement Tapes era. Sometimes art comes in the aftermath of love and in the shadow of loss, and this is just one example of this that can be found on “Patron Saint.” There are even overtones of abandonment to add to the dismal scenery. To give you a glimpse of the heart of this track, I’ll quote the lyrics “Marion, he came and wept ’til he had nothin’ left.”
The next song, “Tattoos of Jesus,” is the story of a lost soul. The themes seem to be loss, including loss of faith and even hopelessness, but it’s wrapped in such a warm musical blanket that it eases your pain. It’s an example of the rich yarns Procyshyn is very capable of spinning. I love the lines “She says she’s mad at God, don’t cooperate at all” and “She orders one for me and says the drinks’ll help my thinkin’.” Mike has, to mix a musical metaphor, always seemed to me like he’d be the perfect guy to have next to you on a bar stool. If you bought him a drink, he’d tell you stories that would keep you entertained for hours. After all, that’s what he does musically anyway.
“Thirty-two” gives Mike a great chance to showcase his vocal gifts. He infuses his songs with emotion in a similar fashion to the late, great Jerry Garcia, whom I admire immensely because he was always able to reach me with his music. Procyshyn paints us a musical picture in blues, blacks and shades of grey with some reds thrown in for variety. Setting the stage lyrically, he croons “When she leaned in to kiss me she had thirty-two rubies for teeth.” How’s that for a mind picture? This is one of the best tracks on the album in my opinion.
“Game Show Host” is yet another slow, waltz-like tune that chugs along with the help of some great guitar work. The keyboards sound a bit like steel guitar and make for a nice framework to this one. Mike backs himself up with some higher range vocals and in my estimation bares more than a passing resemblance to Neil Young sound wise. I got a kick out of the sound effects at the end of the track which sounds like a film projector reaching the end of the reel. It really adds to the lonesome feel of this track.
If you haven’t had enough of the lost love theme, “More to This” is a welcome inclusion on the album. Once again, Procyshyn plays to his strengths as a song writer. He weaves a troubling tale of separation, observing hopefully that “There was more to this than just sex and some kisses.” I love the steel guitar sound on the track although I can’t be 100% sure the instrument was used and it isn’t a keyboard effect. Whichever is the case, it works for me.
On “Secrets,” the final track of the album, Mike lays out a guitar riff reminiscent of Neil Young’s “Needle and the Damage Done,” but then draws us into a melancholy scenario of his own creation. Once again, I’m taken with the lyrics, especially the lines “There are secrets in your skin/That I’d like to see again.” This particular tale seems to deal with the theme of longing with a twinge of regret. The inclusion of what sounds like steel guitar really seals the deal here, giving the track a beautiful haunting quality. The overall delivery puts me in mind of the Grateful Dead tune “High Time.” Trust me when I say that is high praise.
To sum things up, The Patron Saint of All Night Diners is a gorgeous, textured CD from an artist who is in the midst of finely honing his craft. I recommend it highly, especially if you need a little musical salve to ease the pains of the world. It’s going to be interesting to see where the muse leads Mike in the future, but speaking for myself I can’t wait to hear what he comes up with next. If you ever meet up with Mike Procyshyn, maybe somewhere in a seedy bar in a small town while he’s out on the road, buy him a drink. You’ll quickly discover he has a down-to-earth everyman quality about him…and a ton of great stories. What you likely won’t see immediately is that he has a lot going on underneath that fedora of his. Believe me when I say that – cerebrally speaking – there’s a lot of action going on beneath that calm surface.
Check out The Patron Saint Of All Night Diners on Bandcamp.
Top Tracks: “I My Laugh a Bit;” “Thirty-two;” “More to This;” “Garden”
Rating: Hunting Call (Excellent) + *swoop*