Gabrielle Papillon - The Central, Toronto - March 23, 2012
 - Canadian Music Week

By Anthony Marcusa
Photos by Dave MacIntyre

Of vampires and lighthouses, of outlaws and outliers, of farming and family, Gabrielle Papillon is a beautiful storyteller.

In the midst of a cross-country tour, Gabrielle stopped in Toronto for Canadian Music Week, playing several shows over the weekend, enamoring audiences with her lovely lyrics, infectious acoustic songs, and curious tales.

The top showcase took place on Friday night at The Central in front of a densely packed crowd, as Gabrielle took the stage with her guitar, joined by two very talented musicians. ‘The Mighty Oak’ as they are known—Corinna Rose on banjo and Simon Honeyman (his real name) on guitar—joined Gabrielle to create a harmonious and more layered set, adding a richness to the each piece.

The finest performance was arguably her superbly written and composed song, “Years in Our Bones,” a simple, earnest, and gorgeous work of love and devotion. As perfect as the lyrics are, the live song is made even better by Simon and Gabrielle singing with each other and off one another for a simply angelic and inspiring piece.

As emotionally-charged as the song is, or can be, both Simon and Gabrielle, as well as Corinna, seem to be constantly smiling, laughing, and it is that charm that comes across instantly on stage.

“Years in our Bones,” of course, is about the true love story from the annals of Papillon ancestry, set against the backdrop of a lighthouse. Which set up a statement uttered in a coffee shop days later—a thoroughly endearing one—that few if any other songwriters can say: “I really like the new lighthouse song.”

Gabrielle discussed CMW, her continuing tour, and a forthcoming album, one that features that song, “Into the Night.” She played it at The Central, and again a day later during a short set at the CBC Lounge in the Royal York Hotel. It is about, among other things, a lighthouse (not to be confused with a fog horn, about which Ray Bradbury wrote).

“I really like the new lighthouse song.” The audience did as well. The sentence still lingers as curious though. She says it without inflection on ‘new’, though I hear it in my head. It is not an attempt to be particularly quirky, overly metaphorical, or at all conceited, but is perhaps exemplary of the heartfelt story-telling her songs involve. And from our conversation, there is much more to come.

“This is the project I’ve always wanted to do to,” she says, in reference to the week she will spend in a recording studio later this spring. Touring for years, writing music and playing for far longer than that, Gabrielle is armed with pride and purpose, and is prepared to create an ambitious album expected in the fall.

“I love every one of these songs,” she adds, explaining that two of the tracks will be re-worked and re-imagined pieces from her 2010 EP, The Wanderer. “For me writing is the best part of the process,” she continues. “That moment when you are creating and you know you have something good.”

It would seem she has a quite a few good creations. The show at The Central offered a couple more of these upcoming songs, including the brand new lovely lilt, “Oh My Favourite,” and the slightly self-reflexive though not self-serious “Little Bug.”

The latter is a song she performed on her last trip to Toronto, and is rather representative of her work:  catchy, beautifully haunting, and earnest. Though the song may suggest a bit of apprehension (“I’m the little bug,” she attests before playing), Papillon (also her real name) is much too humble but certainly more an extrovert on stage.

Offering a bit of history to her songs, careful not to become too loquacious, all the while cracking jokes—a couple of which may be too dry and quick if you’re not paying attention-- it is easy to become enamored with her and invested in her stories. The first song of the evening, “No Common Ground,” is more or less about vampires, or perhaps for them, she explained. “Dust to Gold” followed about farming, and then of course there is the song about her six years on the lam.

Well, not really. But “Outlaws and Criminals,” a tune that is a slight departure from the others in terms of pace and tone, was well-placed at the end of the evening, offering a fun and stirring conclusion that included Simon’s ambitious, soaring guitar playing.

As she did during her CMW performances, Gabrielle will likely tease audiences with a new song or two as she picks up her travels, a trip that includes a much anticipated return to Toronto on Tuesday May 8th at The Piston. The petite Papillon, effortlessly charming, looks to continue to take advantage of every opportunity and has much beauty and truth to offer to curious crowds and adoring fans.