Dangerbird Records

Murray A. Lightburn

The title of Once Upon a Time in Montreal, the new solo album by Murray Lightburn of legendary Canadian band the Dears, makes it sound like a fairy tale: maybe a love story about an epic romance, maybe a mystery about a mythical figure, maybe a tragic tale about someone who struggled to be understood by the world around him and his own family. Maybeall three.


“I wrote the album version of a biopic,” laughs Lightburn. The album is about his late father, a jazz musician from Belize who moved to Montreal via New York to reconnect with his teenage sweetheart. They were then married for 56 years, until he died in April 2020 in a Quebec nursing home where he’d been living with Alzheimer’s. But despite growing up with the man,Lightburn—the youngest brother of three—says his father “was almost a complete stranger to me. I could almost count the conversations we had, and none of them were very meaningful. Ihad to deduce that our happy moments were listening to Expos games together. I never knew how he felt about my career or the things I’d achieved—all of which I got from him.”


His father was a saxophonist who worshiped Coltrane. There’s no hard bop onOnce Upon aTime in Montreal, but it does feature an array of Montreal jazz players. Like this album’s predecessor, 2019’sHear Me Out, Lightburn in full crooner mode, distilling the passion and intensity of the Dears into gentle arrangements that feature a string section—even an oboe!—drawing on late-’60s, early-’70s folk/jazz/pop: Dionne Warwick, Nick Drake, Bill Withers, SergeGainsbourg, Al Green, etc. Much like the music of the Dears, the influences might be obvious,but the end result is singular and without peer.


Afterthe patriarchpassed, Murray’s 86-year-old mother started revealing tender details of their life together. “She painted a portrait of a man that I had never met in my life,” says the songwriter. “I then pieced the story together.” He didn’t yet know he was writing narrative album. The first batch of songs were written as part of the grieving process—keeping busy, in the way that is most natural for a songwriter with an internationally acclaimed 25-year career.Some other projects intervened—including the original soundtrack forI Like Movies, which debuted to raves at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival—before Lightburn doubled down and finished.Once Upon a Time in Montreal Was produced by Lightburn’s old friend Howard Bilerman(Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Leonard Cohen), featuringDears drummer Jeff Luciani and an array of Montreal jazz players. One of them, Frank Lozano, delivered a soaring sax solo on the title track—which for Murray conjuring the ghost of his father, who—after abandoning music when he became a born-again Christian—had picked up his sax again in the 2000s to play on two Dears songs. As soonLozano finished, “I knew it was a 400-foot home run,” says the younger Lightburn. “Frank came bursting into the control room,‘Is that the take? I think that’s it!’ I ran out of the studio as he was coming in, becauseI was overcome and didn’t want to create a scene. I had to go outside and let it go. Then I pulled myself together, came back in,and said,‘Don’t you dare re-record that. We’re done. Thank you.’I knew it was something thatwould hold. I knew also at that moment how much my dad would fucking love this record. Even

if he never told me, I know that it would be on repeat in his car if he was still with it and driving around. That was my motivation—to make something I know he would love.It’s not indie rock,you know?”—by Michael Barclay, author ofHeartson Fire: Six Years That Changed Canadian Music 2000-05

Dumpster Gold

Once Upon A Time In Montréal

Hear Me Out

To The Top

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