Tom Landa has a penchant for strong ale, long walks in beautiful landscapes, and old buildings-not to forget free-range eggs for breakfast. So when the Paperboys were on tour in England's Lake District a couple of years ago and a fan invited the band to stay overnight in her small mansion, the words just fell out of Landa's mouth after dinner, while he was being given what he calls "the five-cent tour" by the owner.
"I happened to say out loud, 'Wow! This would be an amazing place to make a record'-because of the tall ceilings, the whole vibe of the place," recalls Landa, the Paperboys' leader and guitarist, interviewed at Stella's Tap and Tapas Bar on the Drive. "I felt our music would sound really good in there. And she turned around and said, 'Why not?' So later that evening, having consumed much wine, we discussed the matter."
A year later the Paperboys duly returned to Ellenside, a stone mansion in the Cumbrian countryside near Ireby. They brought with them sound engineer Mark Tucker-who's worked with England's seminal folk-rock outfit, Fairport Convention-and a van load of mobile recording equipment.
"Ellenside is in a really incredible setting," Landa enthuses. "We'd wake up surrounded by green hills, cows, and sheep, and farmers making their way to work. A lot of the band members would go for long hikes in the countryside, and we'd congregate in the kitchen between noon and 1, then work until about 8 or 9, so by 10 we were wrapped up and out at the pub for the last hour."
Ellenside and its owner Susan Hopley are saluted in the song "Comfort and Kind" with the lines "Our glasses are filled with charity's gift/By the hands of comfort and kind". Landa also takes a verse to praise the vintage bottles emptied on the first visit: "I went down the stone steps to the cellar below/To blow the dust off Chablis and Merlot." Yes, it's a hard life being a Paperboy these days.
The Road to Ellenside is the Paperboys' fifth studio album. The band, which bagged a 1998 Juno Award with its second release, Molinos, plays an eclectic mix of roots-music, drawing equally on Celtic, pop, country-rock, bluegrass, and-increasingly-Mexican folk. Landa, who was born in Mexico, is a huge fan of son jarocho from the Gulf Coast state and city of Veracruz.
"Growing up in Mexico City, I was very much into rock. Traditional Mexican music was about the most uncool thing you could listen to," says the Paperboys founder, whose band headlines a St. Patrick's Day celebration at the Commodore on Friday (March 17). "When I moved to Canada I was in a big hurry to fit into my new culture, so again I shied away from Mexican music."
"Oddly-or appropriately-enough, I rediscovered son jarocho thru Los Lobos, who did a record of traditional music called La Pistola y El Corazón," Landa continues. "It was like the first time I heard Celtic music. Something in me was stirred and I couldn't get enough. It's been a burning interest in the last six years or so, and in the past couple I've been down to Veracruz to study it."
To northern ears, son jarocho sounds like a blend of Cajun, Cuban country, and native-Indian fiesta music-with a strong African influence in the rhythm. Its best-known song is "La Bamba", a huge pop hit for Mexican-American teenage prodigy Ritchie Valens in the late 1950s, later transmuted by the Isley Brothers into their own hit "Twist and Shout".
The Latin presence on The Road to Ellenside is strong. The first song, "La Primavera", is son jarocho rock, cleverly intercut with an Irish jig. Landa also sings a fine cover version of Sting's "Fragile" in Spanish, and his collaboration with Paperboys flute-and-whistle man Geoffrey Kelly, "El Baile del Puma", is another nod to Mexican tradition.
But it's the Celtic world that sets the tone for the album. Kelly-a founding member of Spirit of the West-adds phrases from jigs and reels to many of the disc's songs. He's also responsible for the story behind "The Sheep's Ass", a Celtic-pop instrumental whose title requires some explanation from Landa.
"We'd written the tune and were playing it live but without a title. Around that time, Geoffrey had gone hiking with a friend up a mountain in the Isle of Skye, in Scotland. It was a really hard slog, and after a couple of hours they could still see their car in the parking lot.
"They pressed on, and got into mist and fog. They were looking out for the cairn-the little pile of rocks that marks the summit - but could hardly see anything. Then the fog parted a bit and Geoffrey called out, 'Look! There it is, the summit cairn!' At that point the cairn moved, and they realized they'd been looking at a sheep's ass. He told that story one night, and I said 'That's our title.'"