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Show blossoms from the roots of music

The Folk Night at the Registry wraps up its fourth season next weekend with two Canadian musical legends, Mose Scarlett and Ken Whiteley. Given the number of years the two veterans have collaborated, it’s sure to feature polished music and plenty of banter.

“We have this back-and-forth thing that we do,” laughed Scarlett down the line from his Toronto home.
His shows are said at times to resemble finely executed pieces of theatre (albeit, sometimes, the theatre of the absurd).  His patter includes entertaining and topical commentary on the foibles of the world – perhaps introducing the ‘Sheik of Araby’ with a dissertation on oil prices.

Mose Scarlett has been performing for more than 40 years, many of them with Ken Whiteley, who'll be joining him on stage at the Registry Theatre May 8.
Mose Scarlett has been performing for more than 40 years, many of them with Ken Whiteley, who'll be joining him on stage at the Registry Theatre May 8.

Scarlett’s eclectic repertoire includes Broadway classics like ‘I Can’t Get Started’, raunchy blues like ‘Fool’s Paradise’, and nearly forgotten gems like ‘The Moon Is A Silver Dollar.’ A jocular tent-show ditty like ‘He’s In The Jailhouse Now’ will bump up against a mellow, jazzy ‘Sweet Lorraine’ and be followed by a raucous jaunt through ‘Somebody Stole My Gal,’ or by the turn-of-the-century sentimental favourite, ‘Wait Till The Sun Shines, Nellie.’

There’s a certain casualness to the show: there’s no set list, for instance, as Scarlett prefers to let the mood of the evening wash over him when he hits the stage.

“There’s usually no decision on that (set list) until we decide to play it on stage. Sometimes we might have an idea of a couple of tunes that we want to do … but I don’t usually decide in advance.”

Both performers are steeped in the storytelling tradition of roots music, folk, blues and gospel.

A fixture on the Canadian scene, performing throughout the country at festivals, clubs and theatres, Scarlett has also toured widely through the United States, as well as in England, Scotland, Germany and Australia. Besides having performed solo or, more often these days, with various accompanists, he also appeared, for 20 years, in a well-loved trio with Whiteley and the late musical legend, Jackie Washington, all three of whom were nominated for a 1993 Roots and Traditional Juno Award for their first recording together, entitled ‘Where Old Friends Meet.’

A prolific songwriter, Whiteley is one of Canada’s most respected roots musicians. Drawing on a rich background in blues, gospel and folk styles, he’s a seven-time Juno Award nominee. He has played at virtually every major folk festival in Canada and performed and recorded with such legends as Pete Seeger, John Hammond Jr., Tom Paxton, Blind John Davis, The Campbell Brothers and Stan Rogers.

Whiteley is also a busy producer, having worked on more than 80 albums. His productions have resulted in 11 gold or platinum albums, 22 Juno nominations, two Juno winners and two Grammy nominations, with total sales in excess of eight million copies. He has written the music for a number of films and television programs.

Whiteley is one of the principals behind the Borealis label, home to their collaborative efforts and solo albums.

For Scarlett, those solo efforts are just that: efforts. He admits new recordings are sometimes slow in the making.

“I never feel like making one. One day … it pops into my head. I have a concept in mind, and then I’ll get to work,” he said of the process.

With a deep catalogue and more than four decades of performing under each of their belts, Scarlett and Whiteley will have many songs to draw on when they hit the stage in Kitchener next Saturday. Given the venue, it’ll be an up-close-and-personal experience, which is just the way they like it.

“Things catch on when people are closer together in the audience. With the people right up front … the people behind them react to the ripples.”

Mose Scarlett and Ken Whiteley take the stage May 8 at 8 p.m. at the Registry Theatre, 122 Frederick St., Kitchener. Tickets are $16 ($18 at the door), available at the Centre in the Square box office by calling 578-1570 or toll free 1-800-265-8977 or online at www.centre-square.com. For more information, check out www.folknight.ca.

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