Music

Braden Gates refines his songwriting on new record

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There’s some truth to the notion that Braden Gates might be a man out of time.
Young he may be, but the Fort Saskatchewan-raised singer-songwriter has been marching to the beat of drummers past in his short career, or more specifically to no drum beat at all.
“I just don’t really keep up with whatever’s going on in pop music,” he admits, taking a break from putting up posters for his upcoming album release at the Artery. Growing up in a household where the music usually came from an instrument instead of a radio or television set might have helped with that.
“I remember enjoying hearing my dad play the fiddle when I was growing up,” he recalls. “Stuff like Don Messer, old-timey music. For whatever reason that’s the music I grew up loving.”
Not just the music, the actual instrument. Gates started out on the fiddle, becoming part of that scene and acting as sideman for other singer-songwriters like Lucas Chaisson, who is returning the favour by stepping in to play lead guitar at Gates’ release for his second album, Ferris Wheel.
Produced by Miles Wilkinson (Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton), Ferris Wheel represents a step forward for Gates, who has been mixing a continuing love for the old-time fiddle scene with a growing appreciation for Texas singer-songwriters like Guy Clark and Sam Baker.
“I was just attracted to the fact that they were telling a story in their songs,” Gates explains. “I started listening to John Hartford when I was 14 or 15 because of the fiddle playing, and then I got into the songwriting end of things. From there I moved on to people like John Prine, Tom Waits, and of course, [Bob] Dylan.”

Unlike his starkly recorded first album, Break it to Me Gently, the new release has a number of guest turns from musicians like bassist Dean Kheroufi, vocalist Cayley Thomas, harmonica player Rotten Dan and pianist Ken Stead. Gates plays guitar and fiddle throughout, and he feels that you can hear the difference that a few years have made in his life, both personally and artistically.
“The songs are just better crafted. A lot of my daily experience over the last while is in them, and my voice has definitely matured in many ways,” he says. “My guitar playing is better. What I wanted to do with this album is add little colors, more detail to the songs, but still have it so that I can play them solo if I need to. I still enjoy doing gigs by myself, because I can do anything I want to the song in the moment, without worrying about what it would do to whoever is playing with me.”
For someone still in their early 20s Gates has done pretty well for himself. His last 9-to-5 was a number of years back, and he makes a living playing a tangled schedule of house concerts, festivals, airport gigs and whatever else he can dig up. Maybe the folk-music milieu does have it over the pop-music world.
“Well, that and the fact that this kind of music will never die,” he points out. “It’s more tangible, and it’s passed down orally. You can play it around the campfire with a guitar. You also don’t have to worry about being forgotten in a year, because people will actually stick with you in what you’re doing.” V

Sat, Sep 20 (7:30 pm)
With Alex Vissia, Cayley Thomas
The Artery, $10 – $12

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