Ben Caplan Soars On Birds With Broken Wings

Ben Caplan

When it came to crafting the highly anticipated follow-up to his 2011 record In The Time Of The Great Remembering, Nova Scotia’s Ben Caplan was thinking big.

In one sense, you can’t blame him. The four years between his debut and his sophomore record, Birds With Broken Wings, had been kind to the dynamic baritone singer-songwriter. In addition to a bevy of awards and critical acclaim, Caplan spent much of his time on tour, earning fans one show at a time throughout Canada, the U.S., and in more than a dozen countries across Europe.

Not only had Caplan matured as a performer and as a writer over the last four years, his concept of what Birds With Broken Wings could become also morphed with the passage of time. Rather than treading the same territory travelled on his debut, Caplan spread his musical wings, no pun intended. In the end, upwards of 30 musicians exploring vast musical territory using a wide array of instrumentation helped Caplan create one of the year’s most charismatic releases.

“At the outset of the making of my first record, I was intent on capturing what it was the band and I do live,” Caplan says. “With the making of the new record, we already had the identity of being a live act, which encouraged me to want to explore more in the way of the possibilities that go along with making a record in the studio. How we would translate these songs into the live setting was almost an after-thought.”

It was while Caplan was on tour in Poland that he crossed paths with the musician that would go on to produce his latest record, Josh “Socalled” Dolgin. Caplan was already a fan of the Montreal-based producer and rapper, who has made a name for himself via his unique blend of hip-hop and klezmer music, it was merely a matter of Caplan gauging Dolgin’s interest in overseeing his new record.

“Here was a guy that gets the music that inspires me, but that also knew how to go into the studio and use it as an instrument as well. I had tried working with other producers before going ahead with Josh, but they didn’t necessarily ‘get’ what I was trying to do with this album.”

Although the recording process was laborious, Caplan couldn’t be happier with the results. Not only does the record feature a performance James Brown and P-Funk trombonist Fred Wesley, it also features the work of Mohamed Raky, a darbouka player from North Africa, as well as cimbalom player, Nicolae Mărgineanu.

Caplan’s admitted fascination with the music of Eastern Europe – heard in the instrumentation of Birds With Broken Wings – derived from an experience the musician had while backpacking through the continent around 2006.

“I was wandering through Antwerp in Beligum and stumbled upon a Balkan brass band that was busking in front of a church. They were playing this tremendous music using scales and melodies that were completely intriguing to me. It’s like I was familiar with the music, but it really was the first time that something in my mind switched and realized it was a style of music that I could write in.”

Caplan’s exploration of international sounds is evident throughout Birds With Broken Wings. Less evident, however, are the effects of the seemingly ceaseless tour schedule that the musician undertook between releases, playing more than 1,000 shows over the course of the last four years.

Although it is arguably inevitable that the nomadic life of a touring musician would eventually find its way into his song’s subject matter, Caplan says the bigger picture often proves to be more inspirational.

“There certainly is a couple of songs on the record that come from being a person that is always on the road. ‘Night Like Tonight’ is definitely a song about touring; the title track of the album was written on my friend’s couch,” Caplan says.

“The overall artistic approach for Birds With Broken Wings has less to do with the characters I’ve encountered along the way than just simply broadening my horizons. The road isn’t a place that I go; it’s my life. I certainly enjoy being home, but I’ve been at my physical home so little over the last couple of years, I find my home is made in the human connection I make with people on tour.”

What: Ben Caplan
When: Sunday Dec. 13, 3 p.m. (Caplan’s Saturday evening performance is sold-out)
Where: Parkindale Hall, 3434 Route 895, Parkindale
Tickets are $15. Contact parkindalehall@gmail.com for ticket reservations.