This folk rock band was originally based in Montreal, Canada, though during the second phase of its career Courage Of Lassie moved to Toronto. Formed in 1986, the band comprises core members Ron Nelson (vocals), Mady Schenkel (b. Switzerland; vocals/multi-instrumentalist), Rachel Melas (bass/percussion) and Rob Booth (violin/accordion). More recently they have been joined by Andy Fraffiti (drums) and Chiyoko Szlavnics (saxophone/flute). Nelson and Schenkel had first begun to collaborate together on potential film soundtracks while in league with the Vancouver art punk scene. Later they relocated to Montreal and formed Courage Of Lassie. Singing in both French and English, they quickly earned their live reputation via their residencies at the Queen West music bar, Cameron House, proffering a compelling mix of ragged folk, rock and pop covers and originals. Two independently released albums ensured a loyal cult following throughout Canada and in parts of Europe. As they commented retrospectively: ‘Temptation was like a water-colour sketch of what we would become once we started working in good studios with good instruments. Sing Or Die was our first album in a big studio.’ It was on the latter that comparisons between Nelson’s vocals and Leonard Cohen became prevalent, though two songs on their debut had already been dedicated to Montreal’s most famous musical son. Then the group vanished as quickly as they had appeared, bar a 1992 tour of Canada. The silence was finally broken in 1994 when, after signing the first ever Anglo-Canadian contract with the UK’s Beggars Banquet Records, Courage Of Lassie regrouped to release This Side Of Heaven. Specially premiered back at the Cameron Club, its recording saw guest appearances from a slew of local characters who had also grown up at that venue (Molly Johnson, Bob Wiseman, Al Cross). Critical reaction was again strong, with diverse music publications celebrating its arrival as a significant landmark in contemporary Canadian music.
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