“Conundrum is a tour de force of his talent, most evident in his red-hot guitar work, gorgeous vocals, and superb songwriting.”
Michael Schatte – Conundrum
Album Review by Sandra B. Tooze
Maple Blues Newsletter, Canada
Dec. 2020 Issue.
Michael Schatte demonstrates his wide-ranging artistry in his new CD, Conundrum. His expertise as a guitarist and vocalist is obvious, but Schatte also plays mandolin, tenor banjo, dulcimer, and violin on this recording. As well, he wrote all but two of the fifteen songs, and produced, engineered, and mixed the album. Backing him on bass is Ryan Spratt, and his two drummers Riley O’Connor and Chad Lewis, in addition to session musicians Randy Cassidy, Sacha Visagie, and Carson Freeman.
In this his sixth CD, Schatte — a resident of Cobourg, Ontario, and instructor in the music department at Toronto’s Centennial College — presents his amalgam of rock, blues, and Celtic stylings in what he calls “eclectic electric roots music.” Conundrum is a tour de force of his talent, most evident in his red-hot guitar work, gorgeous vocals, and superb songwriting.
The recording blasts off with “Water in the Kettle,” a sizzling rocker with Celtic touches amid fiery guitar and lively lyrics. “Genevieve” is a standout, with more fine vocals and fingerpicking. A sure favourite with listeners is the bluesy “Please Don’t Dance with My Brother,” a satirical saga of long-suffering sibling rivalry. Schatte describes the title track, “Conundrum,” as “existential whimsy,” with lyrics that probe the mysteries of life, accompanied by a captivating 6/8 African rhythm.
In “Bread, Water, Love,” Schatte teams up with Canadian poet John B. Lee to adapt his poem of the same name to music, weaving exquisite vocals and acoustic guitar through an ambience that evokes antiquity. Switching it up, “Come on Down” is a stompin’ boogie number reminiscent of Saturday night at the juke joint. “The Upper Hand” is a swaggering tale of hard truths of unequal love, with more inspiring guitar and tasteful intertwining sax parts.
Schatte slows it down for the sublime “In the Cold Hard Here and Now,” embellished by his mandolin. The album concludes with the instrumental “Good King Richard,” a compilation of Celtic tunes written by one of his major influences, guitarist Richard Thompson, and arranged by Schatte. A showcase for his ferocious fingerpicking, this number would be right at home in a raucous Irish pub.
Conundrum is an album that can’t be pigeonholed into one genre, yet it works. Schatte’s lyrics range from wistfulness to lust, philosophy to fun, menace to wit. With his exceptional voice and magnificent guitar, Michael Schatte is an impressive talent, well worth checking out.