Daniel Lanois' Black Dub: The universal troubadour

The universal troubadour

Daniel Lanois surrounded by his Black Dub bandmates
Photo: John Huffman

From Canada by way of Jamaica, Daniel Lanois brings his Black Dub project to the Montreal Jazz Festival

Daniel Lanois is that rare sort of performer/producer that needs little introduction, with groundbreaking albums produced for Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, Willie Nelson, Sinead O’Connor and U2 significantly coloring between the lines of any prose about the man. Yet, for über-fans, it’s the moving soundscapes in his work with Brian Eno and Harold Budd, or similarly ambient numbers on his dozens of self-released albums, that are his unforgettable moments of genius. It’s in pieces of this type that Lanois’ core musical essence – a holistic internal geography that he reveals to be nebulously centered in Canada, specifically Ottawa and the Gatineau region, where he was born – can be discerned.

"I’m a Frenchie, and I love that part of the world," says Lanois, reached over the phone. "My dad loved hunting and wildlife and wild ways, so we spent a lot of time in the woods around Lac St-Jean. Beautiful memories. If you’re from Canada, you can never forget the experience of diving into one of those black lakes, where trees cut into the water’s edge. I can never forget it to this day, and those images make their way into my songs. These are nice, natural forces to be operating by."

Since his breakthrough work with U2 on The Joshua Tree in 1987, Lanois has been part of the musical jet-set elite, what he describes as "global troubadours" or "musical ambassadors." Despite his movement, a sense of place has clearly remained paramount in his work, easily inferred from song and album titles, and perhaps an unavoidable requirement for the sonic intensity with which Lanois infuses his various projects. In 2010, two such releases brought Lanois significant attention: his unmistakable touch on Neil Young’s Le Noise (the title itself a witty homage to Lanois), and Daniel Lanois’ Black Dub project – a collection of dub-reggae-inspired tracks played by Lanois, Trixie Whitley, Brian Blade and Jim Wilson.

"I have a house in Negril, Jamaica, and I started going down there 15 years or more ago to work with Jimmy Cliff," says Lanois. "I’ve always embraced the dub culture of the Jamaicans, and that’s all I do in the studio – experiment with dubs, in and out of arrangements."

"The people who are making music are constantly struggling with poverty, and by not having a lot to begin with, the music probably means more to you. It kind of reminds me of how I grew up as a kid. My mom moved the family to Hamilton, and we didn’t have a lot of cash to throw around – every decision was a life-changing one, and when you have that feeling as a kid it sets a certain tone."

Daniel Lanois’ Black Dub

w/ Leif Vollebekk

Montreal Jazz Festival at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Place des Arts

July 4

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