Ask the usually passionate and outspoken Mad Housewives how their songs are inspired and they become uncharacteristically quiet and thoughtful. It's not that they don't know where the songs come from; it's just that they find it difficult to talk about. There has always been an intense edginess and melancholia to their music dating when I first saw them as far back as the 80's when they were performing on the circuit as Nothing Sacred and reworking cover tunes from Lou Reed to Dusty Springfield and Otis Redding. But there are many sounds that haven't already been captured by the glut of bands on the scene and the Mad Housewives have found them.
In the mid to late 80's, they earned their reputation headlining in various incarnations of the band playing venues including Club Matador, Grossman's, Albert's Hall and the Black Swan in Toronto but preferring more community-oriented clubs like Café Kim, Graffitti's and The Greeks in Toronto's famed Kensington Market.
Their latest release, Stories From The Alley is a collection of stories people have told them late at night and in the black anonymity of bar life. The gritty streetscape is there in almost every cut on the album and at times both soaringly sweet yet painfully dark and bleak, the soul of Stories From the Alley is intact safe from the hands of overproduction and cheesy orchestration. Maybe because of their day-gigs, both have long histories in community advocacy working with street-people in Toronto, the street influence in their music is easy to hear.
Blending rhythms of Mexican mariachi bands, South African Zulu players with Gordon Lightfoot sensibilities and vocals that conjure up Chrissie Hynde, you get the latest release from the Mad Housewives and one they feel very good about.
"No-one really knows where to slot us", says Sheryl Lindsay, the band's lead vocalist. "If we had only played one type of music it would have been easier but that kind of thing didn't reflect who we are and what we wanted to do with our music."
"We wanted to maintain a really raw, immediate and simple sound", says Joanne Green, the band's lead guitar player. "The more we listen to music, the more we wanted the organic and simple sound of the telling of a story. I don't want to be buried by the device the storyteller is using. I just want to hear the story."
Stories From The Alley is about the things you only talk about when it's last call and you know in a few short minutes you will be back out into the dark night without money for beer or a streetcar home. It reflects the stories of people's lives - the stories told only to perfect strangers when the bar is closing and everyone else has given up listening. The Mad Housewives listened.
The Mad Housewives are a fixture in Toronto and you can catch them playing locally every week, usually in Kensington Market somewhere. They'll be there. Listening.