You wouldn’t expect a kid from Calgary, a bustling oil driven economic metropolis, to churn out working-class folk tunes in the tradition of Woody Guthrie, complete with calluses. But Spencer Jo does exactly that and more. Spencer cut, and lost, some teeth playing in his hometowns one-step-from-being –bulldozed-for-a-condo community hall all-ages scene in 2002, with his former band The Falling Pianos. After they folded, Spencer joined venerable folk-punkers Rum Runner, who were as equally influenced by The Pogues as they were James Joyce. Releasing his first solo album in 2007 took Spencer across Canada in the spirit of his fellow depression-era troubadours, both in the traveling gypsy musician lifestyle and seeing the effects of a crooked financial system on good, honest, working people. Whether in small town pubs raising a pint with the miners, loggers and roughnecks or busking on the grainy and grey streets of East Vancouver, Spencer was always able to connect with his audience, even if they didn’t have the money to buy an album. Although his travels had him touch his feet on both Canadian coasts, Spencer Jo’s music has taken him as far as Marrakech and then home again. As the songs go, even a hobo needs a place to sleep and Calgary is, and will always be, home.
The Kitchen Chorus Songbook, Spencer Jo’s latest album, was recorded with Edmonton’s Joseph Barley and presents 15 tracks of their interpretations of many classic, traditional folk songs, as well as a couple folky interpretations of punk songs. The album spent 2 weeks at the top of CJSW’s Folk Charts and climbed similar charts across Canada upon its release. It is this thick as thieves agreement between his punk roots and folk sensibilities that has allowed Spencer Jo to open for Murder by Death, The Real MacKenzies, Sleepercar and saw him arrange and sing a duet with Chuck Ragan.
“Canadian artist Spencer Jo Burgess isn't interested in sugar-coating things. In fact, he's spent much of his musical life searching for sour truth and throwing the spotlight onto it” said Playback Magazine’s Jason Neubauer. Indeed, Spencer’s lyrics are fraught with aching bones, working far too hard for too little money and cheap whiskey and beer within easy, arthritic reach. But that isn’t to say every song is the ramblings of a depressed misanthrope. There are some wood floor stomping, pint clanking anthems for you and you hardworking friends to forget your troubles, even for a few minutes at a time. Spencer also sings from experience, having stained as many blue collars as the characters from his songs, making him a working musician in every sense the words. However, he’s never afraid to use his music as a positive force and considers the greatest job he’s ever had his annual summer residency of teaching songwriting to highschool kids.
Though he may not have hit the age of 30 yet, Spencer Jo’s music shows a world weary wisdom. Though, not so worn down that he can’t crack a joke or make fast friends with whomever he may be rubbing shoulders with in any mountain or prairie town. His music has the same effect, promising that no matter how hard life gets, there’s still a reason to keep getting up in the morning, not to mention staying up late. The road before Spencer Jo may be rough in spots, but it’s doubtlessly going to take him awesome places.