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9 amazing songwriters holding it down at Toronto’s Cameron House

June 11, 2014

A look at who's coming out of one of Canada's best talent incubators.

The Cameron House is an institution. The breeding ground for Canadian roots music, the Queen St. West venue has hosted live music seven nights a week for more than 30-years, in that time fostering the careers of everyone from Blue Rodeo to the Barenaked Ladies. More than that, it’s a community: A bar that regularly fills with familiar faces and a rotating cast of musicians young and old. In 2011, the Cameron expanded and launched its own record label, the perfect way to peddle the in-house talent it’s so deservedly proud of.

Taylor Knox

Like a lot of the Cameron House characters, fresh faced Taylor Knox is simply charming. He’s played, produced and otherwise been involved with everyone from Hayden and Sloan to Rich Aucoin and the Golden Dogs, and his sound is maybe best described as a mix of the all encompassing. Less folksy than the rest of this list, Knox’s sound is hook-heavy pop rock with an emphasis on harmonies and head-bobs. His first full-length should be out soon.

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The Double Cuts

A supergroup of sorts, The Double Cuts are a 10-piece mishmash of Toronto’s young roots royalty, with members from more than a handful of acts on this list coming together with one goal in mind: Getting you to dance. Their new arrangements of classic swing country songs carries a rollicking energy that, paired with startling musicianship, is sure to get the floor moving throughout their late-night Sunday residency. Their lengthy, dipsy-doodling sets are grin-enducing—If you can leave their sets without a smile, you might be a Vulcan. Hell, even watching them try to cram into the tiny venue’s worth a smirk.

Run with the Kittens

Live, Run with the Kittens are a sight to see. They’ve held a residency at the Cameron for years, and there’s a reason the iconic venue keeps having them back. Delightfully weird, radiantly energetic and tighter than tight, their sound has been pegged as Jack White meets Ween. Odd as that sounds, it isn’t far off.

Al Tuck

An east coater working out of Halifax, Al Tuck’s not a regular to the Cameron House stage, but his Polaris long-listed Stranger at the Wake was a major step in putting the venue’s label on the map. And rightly so: Without sounding much like anyone but himself, Tuck’s rootsy twist on the early Tom Waits formula is a recipe for success.

Jane’s Party

[list_caption]Courtney Lee Yip[/list_caption]

A band in the truest sense, Jane’s Party are four multi-instrumentalist pop wizards who write huge hooks when they’re not doubling as the backing band for up-and-comers like Devin Cuddy. Last year Cameron House records released their first full length Hot Noise to high praise, drawing comparisons to everyone from Grizzly Bear to the Beach Boys. Huge shoes to fill? Sure. But one quick listen and you’ll hear it.

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Kayla Howran

Like Patsy Cline run through a steady diet of Honky Tonk Heroes, Kayla Howran’s got a voice far bigger than the Cameron’s intimate front room can hold. Bursting at the seems is her sound, with songs ranging from soulful to sullen and a band with the chops to match. She’s been known to cover Miranda Lambert here and there, but new-country this is not.

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Whitney Rose

[list_caption]Jen Squires[/list_caption]

A throwback to an era that left long before she was born, Whitney Rose has shared the stage with everyone from Dwight Yoakam and Reba McEntire to Doc Walker and The Mavericks; her sound finds its comfort somewhere in the middle, peppering her retro-take on country with an affinity for bluesy, soulful hooks.

Sam Cash & the Romantic Dogs

Everyone’s eager to mention Sam Cash’s youthful exuberance; that he’s wise beyond his years, or how promising a songwriter he is. That’s true on both accounts, but it’s also a bit of a discredit to how fantastic he already is. Like Devin Cuddy he’s a second-generation Cameron House kid—His dad and brother were in the Cash Brothers and Skydiggers respectively—and he plays music like you’d expect from someone raised around it. There’s a confidence and edge to his music, something 2013’s Stand Together, Fall Together added in spades to his Costello-inspired sound.

Jack Marks

The Lost Wages don’t seem to hit the Cameron House as much as they used to, but Jack Marks is too good of a songwriter to leave off this list. Calling his music Dylanesque is an understatement, but he’s far from a faithful interpreter: For years, his originals have earned him the honour of being your favourite local songwriter’s favourite songwriter, and you’ll pretty regularly see him pop up on stage at someone else’s gig to run through one of his should-be-classics. They’re often sad, but his story-filled songs are still good enough to get a grin out of the crowd. He’s a hell of a character, too: Once, I watched him eat an entire cooked duck at one of the venue’s cramped corner tables. Wasn’t an empty night, either.

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David Baxter

He’s not new on the scene, but David Baxter is a mandatory mention here. Catch him on stage or behind the scenes producing with any number of the countless bands he’s working with and you’re sure to leave impressed; a killer songwriter on his own right, consider him a Toronto country seal of approval.

Cameron House via AshtonPal on Flickr.

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