Night Sun,
Night Sun (Night Sun, 1991)
Calling (Night Sun, 1993)
Home (Socan, 1997)

Night Sun is very hard to categorize, because they play such a wide variety of styles that they defy definition. The describe themselves as "what might happen if a bunch of Canadians pretend to be a Greek wedding band playing at a Bar Mitzvah in Ireland." Suffice it to say that lead singer, songwriter and visionary Ellen Hamilton has her roots in the Northwest Territories of Canada, with a distinct understanding of living in the land of the midnight sun, and the struggles of the Inuit people. This background comes through in her choice of imagery in her lyrics throughout the band's evolution.

The band's eponymous first release, Night Sun, is remarkable only in the depth and breadth of Ellen Hamilton's voice and the unusual imagery she supplies to her music. Between the arctic imagery and the political slant, her lyrics are worth a quick study, although much of it here does tend toward insipid love song. Her voice is a stand-out, reminiscent of Stevie Nicks. The tunes themselves tend to blend together, as unremarkable '70s pop music, with perhaps an unusual twist now and then, adding an occasional Caribbean beat or unusual instrumentation. The memorable cut from this CD is "The Hunter." This unusual song studies the "Save the Seals" movement from a totally different viewpoint, and is guaranteed to make the listener at least contemplate what it is like to be a seal hunter who has their livelihood taken from them.

Calling sees the group growing into their sound, with a wider range of styles and sounds, and a distinctly more folksy sound. The lineup between the first and second recordings remains the same, except for the addition of vibrant percussionist Paul Meggs, who brings life and energy to parts of this album. Standout tracks include the bluesy "Figure It Out," and the upbeat song celebrating the light, "Midnight Sun."

Home, their most recent offering, shows a major change in lineup, and a distinctive change in tone. The only original member still sticking it out with Ellen Hamilton is Chris Coleman, who adds much to this recording with his emotional clarinet and Irish flute playing. Ellen Hamilton explores a wider range of styles, showing a versatility she had not previously displayed with her vocals. Perhaps the most significant change is the addition of Bonnie Dawson, who clearly brings a combination of Celtic and Cajun sounds to the group. Her accordion also expands the depth of sound the group produces.

This recording is a strange, eclectic mix of styles and songs. It opens with a track not unlike the sound of the first CD, a bit of '70s pop with some unusual imagery in the words. Follow this with "Gypsy," a little-bit of gypsy sound combined with an old-timey sound. Unusual. Next, an instrumental set that is distinctly Irish. The strange mix continues with a Celtic/Klezmer tune with quite a kick, converting a strathspey into a Jewish tune. Then a down-home country ditty "I'm not rich," and a lulling ballad, "Loretta." There's a wonderful Middle Eastern feel to "Gardening Song," which soars on an evocative clarinet line. The album is such a variety show as to not have a cohesive feeling, but there are some definite gems to be gleaned from this one. Start with this recording to get a feel for the group. It shows us that Night Sun is a group to watch; no telling what they might come up with next.

[ by Jo Morrison ]

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