Kevin Breit
'Ernesto and Delilah'
featuring Rebecca Jenkins

 by Johanna B. Bodde

Kevin Breit
'Ernesto and Delilah'
featuring Rebecca Jenkins

(Poverty Playlist, 2015) 

About Kevin Breit:

There is no doubt that one of the most innovative and enigmatic guitarists that Canada has ever produced is Kevin Breit. Known for his diversity, fluidity and creativity, Breit is at home performing Jazz, Blues, World and more. As actor and musician Hugh Laurie once quipped: “Kevin Breit never plays the same thing once”. 
Breit has recorded and / or toured with Norah Jones, Rosanne Cash, K.D. Lang, Hugh Laurie, Holly Cole, Amos Lee, Jane Siberry, Molly Johnson, Serena Ryder, Natalie McMaster, Jane Bunnett, and many others. His accolades are many - Breit is a two-time JUNO Award winner for Best Instrumental Recording (Sisters Euclid and Stretch Orchestra), a National Jazz Award winner for Best Electric Jazz (Sisters Euclid). Breit has received a Gemini Award for best television performance for the Joni Mitchell Songwriter Hall of Fame concert with Measha Brueggergosman and a Maple Blues Award with Harry Manx for Acoustic Act of the Year. If that were not enough, he has performed on albums that have a collective ten Grammy Awards: for Norah Jones' 'Come Away With Me', 'Feels Like Home' and Cassandra Wilson's 'New Moon Daughter'. The only thing he hasn’t done is have Chevy Chase play bass in one of his music videos. (It will happen. One day.)

In addition to being a 'guitarist’s guitarist', Kevin Breit is an accomplished and brilliant performer on the mandolin. His 2012 release 'Field Recording' was released to rave reviews from media and critics across Canada and beyond. Recorded with the Upper York Mandolin Orchestra, 'Field Recording' showcases Breit’s skills on the mandolin and vocals as well as masterful, thought provoking and sometimes quirky lyrics. (Disclosure: Kevin Breit is the Upper York Mandolin Orchestra. All string instruments were recorded and performed by Kevin Breit with the exception of the upright bass, which was performed by Russell Boswell.)

Breit’s latest release, 'Ernesto and Delilah', is an epic double-CD set with two distinctly different albums, but both are distinctly Breit. The first disc, 'Ernesto', is fully instrumental and is bold with classic Brazilian sounds and atmosphere, with styles ranging from classical to jazz. 'Ernesto' features some stellar performances from the Upper York Mandolin Orchestra, with guest appearances from Cyro Baptista on percussion and Gregoire Maret on harmonica.
The second disc, 'Delilah', is a gorgeous album of duets with vocalist and actress Rebecca Jenkins. The eleven original tracks on 'Delilah' are the stuff dreams are made of - highlighting the ethereal vocals of Breit and Jenkins as well as Breit’s mastery of his instruments and exceptional storytelling. All it takes are a few seconds of listening to be completely wrapped up in the sounds and stories within 'Ernesto and Delilah' and to realize the extent of the genius and talents of Kevin Breit. (Written by Sarah French, January 2015)

Disc 1 - 'Ernesto'

In 2011, I met the great Thomas Dooley. His name was new to me, as was his century old, Upper York Mandolin Orchestra. Three generations of Dooley's, 300 past members and a wealth of hard to find recordings... why hadn't I heard of this?
Tom's son, Keith, a noteworthy mandolinist, was performing with his band Talk Horse, at a festival outside of Bethesda on the same bill as my trio, Folkalarm. We exchanged particulars and promised to get together when we were both on Canadian soil. A year past when I ran into Keith at a solo show of mine in Kingston and he asked if I had any interest in working with his father's orchestra, UYMO. I told him I had nothing in the works and would like to meet his famed father and further discuss the collaboration. He cautioned me that his dad was a 'tough nut' and had absolutely no interest in popular music whatsoever. A couple of weeks later I met the mandolin patriarch at his farm outside of Greenbank. Keith had given Tom a copy of my 'Simple Earnest Plea' disc, so I had considered this a strike against me, for the man, I had heard, paid little respect to music made past 1962. My fear was quelled by his warmth, charm and a single malt scotch. I was taken by his encyclopedic knowledge of obscure mandolin orchestras during his grandfather's era and yet he told me he had no idea who the Beatles were. "It's true", Keith assured me. I met with him many times in a three-month period, playing new songs for him to record on his trusty Niagara two track. January 9th to February 21, we recorded what would be 'Field Recording' with the Upper York Mandolin Orchestra.

The disc was released in May 2012 and garnered great reviews. I performed mostly solo in that year songs from 'Field Recording'. I had tried to incorporate Tom's arranging antics as much as I could on a single lonely instrument. The more I listened to the inner workings of rhythm and harmony, the more I felt closer to 'Field Recording'. It became obvious to me that I would work again with Thomas and his sonic artillery of mandocellos, mandolas and mandolins.

Late one night, the phone rang and it was Keith. He had told me that his father had acquired the rights to the music of Brazilian composer, Ernesto Ciari. I was unfamiliar of Ernesto Ciari. Thomas had flown to Rio to meet up with the Ciari family and bring back rare and forgotten manuscripts that Ernesto had written before his untimely suicide in 1972. Bob Everland invited me to the sessions to hear first hand the music that had only recently been rescued from inches of dust.

Thomas had worked passionately and meticulously on the pieces and was justifiably nervous and anxious to introduce an audience to an artist so deserving of notoriety. Ernesto's only child, Romero, was in attendance during the recordings. He was a valuable part of the team with his anecdotes and translations of letters written by his father to his mother during dark and bright periods. I was the proverbial fly on the wall and feel honoured to have witnessed the first to last note of 'Ernesto'.

"Como Uma Corrida de Cavalo (As A Race Horse)", although it appears here as the first track, was recorded last. According to Romero, this would be the last song Ernesto would have written. His letter to Vanessa (wife and mother), dated June 5th, two weeks before he took his life, contained the words... "And with my heart and my soul, I could not love as much as I love thee and the distance between us only strengthens my resolve to be in your and Romero's loving embrace before the moon has her chance to be full one again."

Disc 2 - 'Delilah'

I was trying to remember when I met Rebecca Jenkins.
The best I can recollect was an event that honored Joni Mitchell, a star studded, cavalcade of stars night at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto. I was hired to play guitar in the house band. Rebecca was one of the artists singing a Joni classic. What song, I am sorry to say, is foggy and any guess would probably be a wrong one, BUT she was great. This I remember crystal clear.

I was given a copy of a Christmas recording made at the Glenn Gould theatre and my favourite rendering was Rebecca's version of "I'll Be Home For Christmas". I was still listening to it in July, not because I keep a Christmas tree up year round or I can't get enough eggnog. Her voice was perfect.

In 2000, I recorded 'Burnt Bulb On Broadway', a fictitious, musical play about the life of a family, based in Brandon, Manitoba. It followed the life of five women, members of the CWL, who lived hard lives complete with love, death and all that other fun stuff. I asked Rebecca to sing the main song, "Hang On". Ladies and gentlemen, Rebecca Jenkins!

A chilling, beautiful performance completely captured the tenderness and volatility of her character. I recorded the follow up, 'Simple Earnest Plea', and had asked Rebecca to sing a duet with me on the song "Big Top Charlie Boy". Again, she slipped into her character with hardly any prompting from me. Our partnership seemed to me effortless, and the idea to continue and write a full-length record, obvious.

So here it is. 'Delilah'.

(Written by Kevin Breit, October 2014)


'Ernesto and Delilah' - the discs, have been packaged in a big square carton fold-out book, that also holds a lyrics booklet. The lay-out is beautiful, so are the pictures and the information is more than complete, even including a piece in Portuguese. A 'DeLuxe Edition' for sure, without even being labeled that way. See, this is why I never understand the people, who just download the music, with a cover picture at the most. As an extra, for the MP3 player to take on the road, yes. But it is so cool, to have a music collection that you can look at, that you can feel!

When it comes to the music: this is something entirely different from anything else I've listened to. I like different! All the music on the first disc has been written by Ernesto Ciari, is arranged and produced by Thomas Dooley III. Eleven instrumental tracks, with interesting looking Portuguese titles. Played by the Upper York Mandolin Orchestra, consisting of six mandolin players, four on the mandolas, three on mandocellos with one percussionist. The special guests are Cyro Baptista, also on percussion and Grégoire Maret on harmonica. I don't see the name of Kevin Breit anywhere, in connection to this disc. Anyway, this is beautiful - the styles go from Classical to Jazz to Latin, obviously played by stellar instrumentalists with lots of talent and I love all the tracks! The harmonica almost sounds like a flute soloing on "Uma Longa Escalada", it certainly is a versatile little instrument. "Santo Antônio" approaches traditional Brazilian dance music, with castanets in the background, until the volume becomes louder and the whole track picks up pace, this is a favorite! "Do Tipo Confiável" has a very interesting, almost avant garde touch in the jazzy sound. "Ubatuba Homem" and also "Um Dedão no Buraco do Barca" make me think of those composers of classical music from around 1900, yes, I did listen during my very theoretical music lessons in school. "O Vent e o Chapéu" has a very interesting catchy rhythmic structure. The harmonica is back for "Mulher Quieta", in a wonderful arrangement with the mandocellos and then the mandolins are creating a flowing sound, it is like following a mountain creek, gorgeous! The mandolin can be a very nervous instrument, but certainly not here on this disc. I'm definitely not an expert, but I like the whole mostly relaxed atmosphere of this surprising variety of mandolin based music.

It is always easier to write something about tracks with lyrics. There are eleven songs on the second disc. All written and arranged by Kevin Breit himself and produced by Thomas Dooley III. The Upper York Mandolin Quartet as in Kevin Breit (!) plays here: two mandolins, mandola and mandocello. He also sings, although the main vocalist is the lovely Rebecca Jenkins. Russell Boswell (bass) and Davide DiRenzo (percussion) round out the line-up.

This is enchanting music, that's my conclusion after one minute already, of listening to "Dance With Delilah". A lovely rhythm, played by this unusual ensemble of instruments. Rebecca Jenkins sings leadvocals and she has a sweet girlish voice, that fits perfectly together with Kevin's hoarse vocal in the chorus. "Seven Silver Buttons" is less than a minute long, an instrumental that refers to the 'Ernesto' disc we have just listened to. The next track "Murderous Dimitri" follows immediately, it has influences from old country ballads and is sung as a duet. After a breathless little intro, "From The Flood" picks up the pace in a bluegrass song with a gospel touch. Technically this playing is quite incomparable, as it is so rare and Kevin shows an amazing talent, creating his songs. 

"A Calvary Tune", about Henry Marx and the 'marxophone', is a somewhat odd song about this combination of guitar, mandolin and harp. "Ghost Of California" is another intriguing song, with Kevin singing leadvocals. Let me give you an example of the poetic lyrics with references to the cinema: "If you love somebody then let them go / Whoever said that doesn't really know / A dusty, old cliché wades in the hours of yearning / Thirsty hearted lover sees no sign of her returning." That 'la la la' refrain isn't necessary, or should be sung by Rebecca only. Otherwise this sounds somewhat like a Tom Russell song. "Alberta Hunter" is a fast blues based track with experimental poetry set to music, some lines are great though: "Dreaming of a Mississippi hot afternoon / I spent my money and sold my car / All I have is this guitar." The songs contain all the nuances of the relationship between the 'Ernesto and Delilah' characters, full of romance and passion, people being together who have one of those opposites attract, can't live with / without you type of relationships. "Foolish Kind" gets even more jazzy and experimental: "Maria, she dangles / One leg from a fire escape edge / She takes a long draw from a cigarette / Silence is a privilege / Rodeo radio is tuned in loud / Her spell has broken down". There's a little bit of Warren Zevon and Tom Waits in the songs too. "Sweeping the streets of Saturday / He missed the big parade / Mascots wait for the late night train / But Jesus, he walks away." Waves of classical music come in for "Rang a Lang The Angels Sang". Why does "Come On Home" make me think of Johnny Dowd, master of the absurd? More experimental poetry, like Dutch poets post WW2 that I love, combined with Rebecca's soulful vocal. "Cut Me Down To Nothing" is the last duet, in a more traditional folk structure. "So I bought you a white gardenia"... I want to buy Rebecca one, I just love her voice and she needs the weirdness of that mandolin master, I get it!

An unusual collection of music for sure. As a singer-songwriter Kevin Breit certainly does everything his own way, intense and personal. Lovely Rebecca adds the sweet touch, making this project more accessible for fans of alternative folk and altcountry noir, but there's still lots to explore! I had fun exploring.
Written & compiled by Johanna J. Bodde - May 3rd, 2015.