Featured Songwriters: Suzie Ungerleider (Oh Susanna), Mark Masri, Hill Kourkoutis, Will Whitwham (Wilderness of Manitoba) and host Andrea England. Surprise guest was Jessica Mitchell. See songwriter bios at the end of this post.
Four Chords and the Truth, the Dakota Confessions are series of songwriter showcases held quarterly in Toronto at the Dakota Tavern, featuring a blend of top notch songwriters and songs in an intimate environment. Each show is hosted by award-winning songwriter Andrea England and will features several nationally and/or internationally acclaimed songwriters (and maybe a surprise guest or two). The songs are performed “in the round,” a style made famous by Nashville’s Bluebird Café, in which all four songwriters share the stage at once, each introducing and performing one song acoustically per round for a series of 3 rounds. The show is presented by Jack Daniel’s and supports the Unison Benevolent Fund.
6th Dakota Confessions RECAP:
Andrea, Suzie, Will, Hill & MarkOh SusannaWill WhitwhamHill KourkoutisMark MasriOh SusannaHill and MarkJessica MitchellABOUT THE SONGWRITERS:
Suzie Ungerleider began performing as Oh Susanna in the mid-1990s, crafting a persona that matched the timeless qualities of her music, sounds that drew from the deep well of early 20th Century folk, country and blues, yet rooted in her finely-honed storytelling skills. This Canadian songstress has a voice that can pierce a heart of stone. Her superbly crafted songs often tell stories of troubled souls who rebel against their circumstances to attain a quiet dignity. These are tales of longing and love, of small town joys and pains, of our simple feelings and strong passions. These are tales that look into our beautifully flawed human hearts. Born in Massachusetts and raised in Vancouver, Suzie first recorded a cassette of seven songs for a couple hundred bucks, making 50 copies and catching the attention of the music industry before Alt-Country even had a name. The positive reaction she received inspired Suzie to quit her day job as a library clerk and take her chances in Toronto. Soon after, she recorded her internationally acclaimed debut album Johnstown with assistance from Bazil Donovan (Blue Rodeo), Peter Moore (Cowboy Junkies) and Bob Egan (Wilco/Blue Rodeo). The follow-up, Sleepy Little Sailor, firmly established her reputation within what was then known as Alt-Country circles, and her third, eponymously titled album from 2003 found Suzie expanding her sound in an exciting roots rock direction. After pausing to start a family, she returned in 2007 with the stunning collection, Short Stories, bolstered by a top-notch band anchored by a rhythm section comprised of her husband Cam Giroux (Weeping Tile) and Bazil Donovan (Blue Rodeo), along with a crew of string-bending virtuosos including Luke Doucet, Kevin Fox, Joey Wright and Burke Carroll. This group reconvened for 2011’s Soon The Birds, which brilliantly blended the stark beauty of her early work with fleshed-out ensemble arrangements. Looking back at how her career developed, Suzie says that she definitely had a narrow focus at the beginning, drawing on American influences such as Hank Williams, Bill Monroe, Tom Waits, and field recordings of traditional balladry which she maintains was necessary for her to find her voice. However, Suzie now says, “In order to grow and feel inspired, I have to open up my field of vision. The drawback is that people still want to define you somehow. At the same time, whatever music I make will always have similar themes of people at the crossroads, trying to cope with the situations they’re in.” In that respect, Namedropper is vintage Oh Susanna, in spite of the songs coming from other sources. Interpreting those words with her unique combination of grit and subtlety has made them her own, while also providing ample proof that Canada’s songwriting tradition is in safe hands with this generation of artists. Being a member of that community has even moved Suzie to pursue her Canadian citizenship, and now that she’s healthy, she fully expects to have new material ready to record in the not too distant future.
Mark Masri, once studying to become a medical doctor decided early in his academic career to pursue his first love, music. “Music is kind of like medicine, I guess; it heals the body and soothes the soul.” This philosophy is what guides Mark to create the haunting lyrics and melodies that have become his trademark. With his powerful tenor voice, Mark is taking on the songs of love and loss, sorrow and hope. On the tails of his highly acclaimed concert special on the PBS Network and a new album in 2016 with Green Hill Music(UMG), by multi-platinum producer Patrick Hamilton of Belgium, Mark is showcasing his unique theatrical pop style and exceptional writing skills with songs that will make you dance and songs that will make you cry. Whether he’s performing with The Vivaldi Orchestra in Moscow, headlining his own North American tour, or guesting on David Foster’s, Hitman Returns Television Special; Mark is opening hearts and minds with thought provoking songs, a charismatic stage presence and his sensuous tenor voice. Mark’s genre bending style and eclectic taste in music is evident in his previous releases. “See My Face” is a collection of covers and originals that lean toward soulful. “La Voce” includes songs in six languages and collaborations with Jon Secada, and Jim Brickman, highlighting Mark’s jaw dropping range and classical training. Mark’s 2011 album “Intimo” is a tribute to the most loved Italian songs set to classical guitar. Duets with international stars Olivia Newton-John and Delta Goodrem have become instant classics on adult contemporary radio. Regardless of style, Mark delivers emotion that will enchant any listener.
Hill Kourkoutis (Hill & the Sky Heroes)
As a songwriter, Kourkoutis has been the recipient of multiple awards such as the International Songwriting Competition, Canadian Radio Star Award and USA Songwriting Competition and has been invited to take part in songwriting camps for Canadian Idol and the Songwriter’s Association of Canada. Artists that have recorded her songs include Meghan Patrick, SATE, The Cliks, Mookie and the Loyalists, Dane Hartsell, Martha and the Muffins, Andrea England and Graph. Hill has also branched out into the world of production since establishing her studio “The Lair” and has produced albums or singles for The Cliks, Eh440, Graph, Saidah Baba Talibah, Hunter Valentine, Martha and the Muffins and Hill & The Sky Heroes. Her songs have also been synced in film/television such as Degrassi: The Next Generation (MuchMusic/MTV), Offspring (Network Ten), Private Eyes (Global), Pulling Strings and ads for Virgin Mobile and Urban Planet. In addition to her musical ventures, as a teenager Hill was cast to play the silent but insightful drummer Megan on the hit teen series “Radio Free Roscoe” (Noggin/The Family Channel). This experience supported by a childhood desire to capture the absurdities of life on film led Hill to Ryerson University where she completed a BFA with Honours in Film Studies. In her final year of studies, she was awarded several awards including the Norman Jewison Filmmaker’s Award and the Harvey Hart Director’s Award for her existential comedy short “…And The Planets Conspire”. A year prior to graduating, Kourkoutis signed on as a director with Toronto-based production company The Field where she directed music videos for Sass Jordan, Serena Ryder, Tara Slone, Mother Mother, You Say Party!, Alex Cuba, Canadian Idol winner Theo Tams and “The Next Star” (YTV). In 2010, Kourkoutis established her own production company which has produced music videos, promos and PSA’s for clients such as EMI, Last Gang Records, WIDEawake Entertainment Group and ACTRA. More things are currently being pondered, developed and created in Hill’s creative studio, The Lair. Stay tuned.
Will Whitwham (The Wilderness of Manitoba)
The Wilderness of Manitoba prefers to characterize itself as an evolving entity. The band’s most recent album, Between Colours, was as far-reaching as anything in its catalogue. “When a band isn’t changing, it’s not growing,” says guitarist, keyboardist and vocalist Will Whitwham. From the band’s inception, it has redefined itself with every album; from Hymns of Love and Spirits through When You Left The Fire, Island of Echoes and The Leslieville Sessions. The evolution of their sound has run the gamut from four part harmonies and chamber folk to cinematic indie rock and anthemic folk rock.The Wilderness of Manitoba’s Between Colours showcased an explosion of strength with male/female vocals and a more rhythmic bottom end. Recorded at Revolution Recording in Toronto with producer Joe Dunphy, the album fully embraced all the studio had to offer. The expanding instrumentation and layered guitar and synth effects combined to create one-listen pop hooks and adventurous sonic exploration. In its six year existence, the band’s ongoing transitions come as a direct result of the wealth of traveling the band has done; playing a multitude of festivals and touring in the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, the USA and Canada. “The live show,” says Whitwham, “is a constantly evolving portrait of the band and its efforts.” Those efforts were recognized when the Wilderness of Manitoba were nominated for a JUNO. Summing things up, Whitwham says, “There is no lacking in the quantity of ideas in terms of our music and the band’s future projects.
Andrea England (founder/host)
Nova Scotia-born Toronto-based Andrea England has a unique ability to work successfully in two different music worlds, recording and performing as a solo roots/country artist while placing songs with pop stars and emerging country artists. Having been awarded by the John Lennon International, NSAI, USA, and International Songwriting Competitions, England’s songs have appeared on numerous TV series, in feature films, and have been recorded by numerous artists, including former Pussycat Doll, Nicole Scherzinger (whose recording of co-write “Casualty” on Killer Love earned Andrea her first UK Gold record), 2015 CCMA nominee Twin Kennedy (cowrites “Get Back Up” and “I Never Will” book-end their new album, It’s A Love Thing) and rising star Meghan Patrick (“Nothing but a Song” on Grace & Grit) among others. Andrea’s own most recent release, Hope & Other Sins – which was produced by Colin Linden and features guest musicians Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Damhnait Doyle, Liz Rodrigues and Gordie Sampson, among others – garnered rave reviews and diverse radio play, reaching #1 on Galaxy’s FolkRoots chart & spending 14 wks on CashBox Magazine’s Top 50 Folk Chart. Of it, David Kidney (Critics at Large) wrote: “The songs are autobiographical, personal, honest and universal. The performances are potent as you might expect; England’s vocals are delicate yet strong…” Andrea’s most recent endeavour is founding and hosting Four Chords & the Truth, Toronto’s newest and hottest ‘in the round’ songwriter concert series. Presented quarterly by Jack Daniel’s at the Dakota Tavern.