By Liam Prost
CALGARY – Supergroups have a formula. You take two or more established artists in need of career invigoration, give them a kitschy name (like the Moseying Masseurs) or a quotable project (like covering All Things Must Pass in Korean, backed by a choir of didgeridoos) and you are essentially done. This formula has had its share of successes to be sure, but some of the best supergroups work backwards, finding success as a collective of multiple talented singer-songwriters, and eventually leading to several successful careers. Port Cities is one of the latter, albeit in the early stages.
Carleton Stone’s slick song-writing has been seeping its way through the East Coast music circuit for a few years now, and his 2014 release Draws Blood crept up nationally into number 1 on CBC Radio 2’s top 20. Stone is perhaps the most prominent songwriting-wise on the record, and his quippy turns of phrase and subtle lyrical references to classics like Blood on the Tracks (1975) keep the record earnest and grounded, even in its low moments.
Dylan Guthro fills out much of the music instrumentally with his sprightly guitar work. His general influence is broad and his soulful vocal affection adds breadth to the band’s three-part harmonies. His lineage is perhaps the most written-about aspect of his work, but it does a disservice to the character and effusiveness of his contribution.
Breagh MacKinnon centres the Port Cities experience. A classically trained jazz performer, she lovingly works the ivories into the record’s most effective and tender moments. But her voice is the real spectacle. She has all of the warmth and colour of her jazz roots, but also the range and strength of a pop singer with a surprising restraint when she is harmonizing behind her two bandmates.
Each member of the Cape Breton three-piece has had their share of success, with a tableful of EMCA nominations and several solo releases between them, but with barely two years as Port Cities, the band has hit critical mass much more than the sum of their strings. Their self-titled record just dropped on Warner Music and they are about to hit the road with Rose Cousins, fresh off a much-lauded new release of her own.
The three began their musical relationship at Gordie Sampson’s iconic songcamp in 2011. “I’d be touring in the summers with them playing shows” Breagh MacKinnon tells BeatRoute. The three traded off playing in each other’s bands supporting each other’s solo projects, frequently writing and collaborating on recordings together. MacKinnon describes the genesis of the Port Cities project: “we were on a tour around the Maritimes as three solo songwriters, sort of as a songwriter’s circle, and it was on that tour where we started to get that idea of ‘what would it be like if we started one band?’”
The ball rolled quickly with the band able to curate together a list of songs they had already been collaborating on, songs that specifically “seemed to work well with three voices.” The 12-track release features writing from all three songwriters, but also credits from Donovan Woods to Gordie Sampson and Mo Kenney.
Port Cities will be supporting Rose Cousins on March 15th and 16th at the Ironwood Stage and Grill in Calgary and on the 17th at the Arden Theatre in St. Albert on March 17th.Arden Theatre, Breagh MacKinnon, Calgary, Cape Breton, Carleton Stone, Dylan Guthro, Ironwood Stage and Grill, Port Cities, Rose Cousins, St. Albert