On a warm spring day in 2006, over twenty musicians gathered in a studio in the north end of Halifax. Their presence was requested to sing in a choir for the upcoming Heavy Blinkers record. It was a project that had developed an aura of mystery as of late.

The band had been playing less and less over the previous months. In addition to that, some of the founding members had begun putting their focus on other projects. Their magnificent last offeringThe Night and I Are Still So Young earned them international acclaim and a devoted fanbase. Still, basing a touring orchestral pop act out of an isolated Canadian coastal city wasn’t without its challenges.

As the choir assembled, they were given the lyrics to an upbeat and ambiguously themed track called“As Long As You Have Your Health. With crisp voices riding atop a giddy piano line, they delivered a song that evoked the classic pop sound that The Heavy Blinkers had mastered with favorites such as “Try Telling That To My Baby” and “You Can Heal. It was with the track’s cautiously optimistic lyrics and beaming delivery that the current chapter of The Heavy Blinkers drew to a close.

Seven years later, the band’s last remaining founding member, Jason Michael MacIsaac received a wood carved image of a sailor standing alone on the edge of a turbulent sea. The naval officer calmly salutes a ship in the distance as it sinks into the waves. The night glows around him. The image acts as the completed album’s cover. While it’s a tribute to MacIsaac’s father, who served in the military, there is also something else at play. The sailor salutes with his wrong hand. The snow that falls in the evening sky is alive with a surreal light.

It is the final piece in a project that has been one constant in almost a decade of change. Following endless sessions, long hours of meticulously arranging instrumental passages, and reworking lyrics,Health was finally done.

All of The Heavy Blinkers splintered in various directions following their various exits from the band. Looking for new motivation before he carried on, MacIsaac put new focus on his work with renowned Theatre troupe, Zuppa Theatre. He also began composing music for television and film, including scoring the Thom Fitzgerald film Cloudburst (which features Oscar Award winners Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker). This new format directly informed the way he approached the subsequent Heavy Blinkers material.

With that in mind, Health begins with an ending of sorts. The choir that was assembled so many years prior sings a passage that slowly submerges into a mysterious new world. The second half of the track acts as musical gateway into this dimension. Unfamiliar voices guide the way. The once glowing sunshine has dimmed into twilight.

Filled with songs of the war, death, and unrequited love, Health is a haunted epic. Written as a musical, the character’s stories are told by vocalists Stewart LegereMelanie Stone, and Jenn Grantwith help from guest contributors Sondre Lerche and The High Llamas’ Sean O’Hagan. It uses works such as Frank Sinatra’s Watertown and Van Dyke Park’s (who once called the band “the real deal”) Song Cycle as touchstones, but still remains wholly unique.

Rolling Stone once claimed, “The Heavy Blinkers go beyond simple accomplishment, and into the realm of masterwork thanks to the production and pure genius arrangements.” Health holds true to these words. Each song delivers lush new arrangements that revel in all the benefits of studio indulgence. Culled from 30 completed songs, the depth of the project is massive, but the focus is unparalleled.

“Anna Karina, I Was Wrong” is a wartime tale that shimmers with harps and foreboding strings. Centred around the somewhat baleful refrain, “This is what you deserve, and I won’t stand in your way,” the song is an apology and a goodbye. It’s a towering work and stands as the thematic core of the record.

The song ends with an echo of “My Darling Clementine.” It is the first of many ghosts that haunt the album. These specters eventually take over in the closing, “Everything is Magic. With echoing laughter and a woozy arrangement, the voices of 40 Heavy Blinkers fans (recorded all over the world) recite a passage that MacIsaac wrote seven years ago which would serve to inspire the project:

“In an attempt to spell her name, the illiterate moon gathered up all the stars into her arms, and laid them out over the night sky, forming letters as she went along. Unwittingly, she spelled the word noon instead of moon. The sun instantly filled the sky, and the moon disappeared.”

Through the voices and sway of the music, the choir once again resurfaces. This time its voices are distant, submerged. A memory of the beginning now ominously opens the door for a new chapter.


ALBUM CREDITS

All songs written by Jason Michael MacIsaac except ‘Everything Is Magic’, lyrics by Mychal Sullivan (age 3) music by Jason Michael MacIsaac
The outro to ‘Waiting For A Riverboat’ uses an excerpt from ‘La rue des Bons Enfants’ by David Christensen, performed by Christensen & MacIsaac in MahNaMahNa studios, Rouen, France
The outro to ‘Anna Karina, I Was Wrong’ incorporates ‘Oh My Darling, Clementine’ by Percy Montrose
Produced by Jason Michael MacIsaac
Strings and horns arranged by David Christensen
Engineered by Jason Michael MacIsaac, Dave Anderson, Luke Batiot, Dave Ewenson, David Christensen, Eric Leclerc
Drums & Piano 1-4, 6, 7, 9-11, 14, 15 engineered by Andrew Watt
Strings and horns engineered by Dave Anderson and Luke Batiot at Village Sound
Mixed by Dave Anderson with Jason Michael MacIsaac at Village Sound
Mastered by J. LaPointe at Archive Mastering
Artwork by Iker Spozio
Layout and Design by Mat Dunlap
Executive Producer Melanie Stone
Sondre Lerche appears courtesy of Mona Records

THE HEAVY BLINKERS
Jenn Grant: vocals
Melanie Stone: vocals
Stewart Legere: vocals
David Christensen: flute, clarinet, saxes, bass harmonica, glockenspiel, organ, kalimba, guiro
Adam Fine: stand up bass, electric bass
Ellen Gibling: harp
Jason Michael MacIsaac: piano, accordion, organ, guitars, bass, banjo, mandolin, bass harmonica, omnichord, percussion

WITH…
Sondre Lerche: lead vocals on 10
Sean O’Hagan: outro vocals on 6
Gina Burgess: violin
Isabelle Fournier: violin
Anne Rapson: violin
Anne Davison: viola
Sue Sayle: viola
Shimon Walt: cello
Ross Burns: guitar on 13, outro vocals on 1
Norm Adams: cello
Tim Elson: trumpet
Eric Sproul: trumpet
Andrew James Jackson: trombone
Greg Fry: drums on 3, 7, 10
Benn Ross: drums on 8, 12, 13
Andrew Sisk: drums on 9, background vocals on 2, 3
Dale Murray: electric guitar on 3, 7 and pedal steel on 6, 9, 10, 15
Kinley Dowling: violin solo on 5, 6
Dan MacCormack: banjo and mandolin on 1
Penelope Jackson: background vocals on Track 3, 5
Don Brownrigg: background vocals on Track 5
Matt Charlton: background vocals on Track 3
Melanie Strong: intro vocals on Track 5
Susan Leblanc: outro vocals on Track 16
Sageev Oor: accordion on Track 13
Glenn Coolen: Uilleann Pipes on Track 8
Rebecca Zolkower: violin on Track 8 

The AS LONG AS YOU HAVE YOUR HEALTH Junior Choir
Beth Amerio / Rich Aucoin / Jason Ball / Don Brownrigg / Levon Campbell / Dave Carroll / Jen Clarke / Mary Cobham / Kev Corbett / Erin Costelo / Claire Gallant / Rebekah Higgs / Penelope Jackson / Justin Karas / Andrew Killawee / Joseph Landry / Kelly Lee / Jess Lewis / Romy Lightman / Sari Lightman / Dan MacCormack / Matt MacDonald / Norma MacDonald / Ryan MacGrath / Caralee Murphy / Mike O’Neill / Laura Peek / Brent Randall / Matt Reid / Ian Sherwood / Natasha Warren

Thanks to FACTOR, Music Nova Scotia, Our Families, Ruth, Trevor, Andrew, and Greg. This album would have been abandoned, if not for the talent, support, direction and generosity of Melanie Stone, David Christensen, and Dave Anderson.