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Ben Sures launches signature album to celebrate 20 years of recording on April 8, 2011, 7 to 9 p.m. at Times Changed High and Lonesome Club, 234 Main St., Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Gone To Bolivia album launch dates:

April 8 –7 til 9 pm Times Changed High and Lonesome Club, Winnipeg

Some artists seem to explode onto the roots scene overnight, headlining festivals, selling-out folk clubs, winning awards and making it onto everybody’s favourites list – only to seemingly fall out of favour a few years later.  A few sustain super stardom for decades.

And then there are the stalwart members of the roots community – the troubadours that headline the coffee houses and folk clubs; the ones you can always count on for a great night of entertainment; the ones who never seem to land the proverbial “folk hit” but spend years quietly honing their craft and earning snippets of acclaim until one day, you put on their latest record and think, “Holy shit!  Was he always this good?!”

 Count Ben Sures among the latter.

Winner of the roots categories of the world’s two largest song contests – the John Lennon Songwriting Competition and the International Songwriting Competition – and a regular musical guest on CBC’s The Irrelevant Show, Sures is celebrating his 20th year as a recording artist this year by releasing an outstanding new album – arguably his signature piece of work.

Produced by Don Kerr of the Rheostatics, whose quirky sensibilities and creative use of instrumentation are the perfect match for Sures’ idiosyncratic songwriting style, Gone to Bolivia sees Sures singing more confidently and expressively than ever before with just a touch of a weathered rasp. His songwriting too is as clever and offbeat as ever, with many songs exhibiting the same thought-provoking blend of uplifting melodies and unique takes on challenging subjects as his award-winning 2003 breakthrough cut, “Any Precious Girl.”

The new album’s highlights include “Columbus Sailed Here,” which was inspired by Sures’ brief stint working on a cruise ship, and by the desperation he saw as third-world citizens clamored to sell what they could – including themselves and their children – to first-world visitors.  Other stand-outs include “In Burma,” a song that boldly uses black humour to process the countless tragedies in that country, and “The Boy Who Walked Backwards Through the Snow,” a triumphant true story about a friends’ fathers’ escape from Indian Residential School.

Some of the songs on Bolivia are inspired by the simpler things in life.  “High School Steps” is a touching ode to Ray Davis, written after Sures opened for the Kinks front-man in Edmonton. It’s also a toast to high school rock n’ roll idols and the nostalgia they evoke.  “Everybody Matters” is Sures’ contribution to the “Don’t Worry Be Happy” genre of feel-good ditties. And “Marie Marie” is both a lament for a long-lost romance and an homage to 240 Balmoral St. in Winnipeg, a heritage home inhabited for many years by a motley crew of musicians and artists, including, for a time, Sures.

Backing vocals on the album are provided by Juno Award-winners The Good Lovelies and Grievous Angels alumnus Michelle Rumball.  Instrumental accompaniment comes courtesy of Tim Bovaconti from Ron Sexsmith’s band and members of the Creaking Tree String Quartet, arguably Canada’s most innovative band of instrumentalists.

With its bright, witty songwriting and its varied textures and themes, Gone to Bolivia is bound to build on Sures’ growing reputation as a roots artist to be reckoned with – a reputation that’s been hard-earned. 

From humble beginnings playing in Winnipeg blues bands, to a pair of early cassettes recorded in his bathroom and years of hopping from city to city, busking and playing small venues, Sures – the son of Order of Canada-winning ceramic artist Jack Sures – has paid his dues as an itinerant songwriter and musician.

Slowly, the recognition has come.  Sures played the Winnipeg, Edmonton and Calgary Folk Festivals.  He opened for Greg Brown, Alejandro Escovedo and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.  And, with a growing “iPod generation” of music fans concerned more about quality music than artistic “coolness,” Sures found himself attracting the same sort of young listeners to his shows that attend concerts by artists like the Good Lovelies – people who don’t care if folk isn’t “cool.”  They just want to hear music that makes them feel good.

And Sures has a knack for that.  His biggest breakthrough to date came when he won the folk category of the prestigious John Lennon Songwriting Contest with “Any Precious Girl,” a totally unique, unsentimental and celebratory song about a young woman with bipolar disorder.  The win got national news coverage, Sures appeared on CBC’s Sounds Like Canada, and since then, more doors have opened – such as the gig with The Irrelevant Show.

Sures credits the show, and its requirement that he bang out songs under time pressures, with further sharpening his songwriting chops to the level captured on Bolivia.  He’ll be showing off the new songs live as part of an album launch tour starting April 8, 2011 in Winnipeg.  

May 6 – Matchbox Theatre, Red Deer

May 12 – Westbury Theatre in the TransAlta Arts Barns Edmonton

May 20 – Arts Station, Fernie, BC

May 21 – The Ironwood Stage and Grill, Calgary

May 28 – Wolf’s Den, Lethbridge Folk Club

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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