Arts & Entertainment

Revamping spoken word

It’s hard to imagine how rewriting the lyrics to a Fat Boys song into his own beat-box symphony at the age of nine could lead C.R. Avery to where he is today.

Currently on his Dead of Winter cross-Canada tour, backed by The Legal Tender String Quartet, you could say that Avery is in his element – his storytelling/harmonica-playing/beat-boxing element. Or you could say that Avery’s passion lies with music, fronting the rock ‘n’ roll band The Boom Chasers. Or maybe it’s poetry that drives him, as he contributes to spoken word trio Tons of Fun University. Either way, Avery can do it all.

“If I’m going to stick around and play every night, it better be good,” says Avery. And it is. There is no genre classification for this piano, harmonica, and harp player. If great musicians are said to have deep pockets, Avery’s wearing cargo pants. As he developed as an artist, a move to the West Coast introduced him to the slam poetry scene in cities like Seattle and San Francisco. For someone who used to be “a kid juked up on Dylan,” he found his voice in spoken word, which gave him the ability to mix music and emotion.

“You hear it and see people put everything on the line. It wasn’t just, ‘Oh yeah my girlfriend left me,’ it was why she left me and what the feelings were,” says Avery. Slam poetry venues became a second home to him, allowing him to see the smooth blend of music and poetry together, and serving as the inspiration for his own lyric and poetic creations.

“I grew up in a time where going town to town playing coffee houses didn’t exist. But then with slam poetry, all of a sudden I could go to New York and play four different venues and hear all of these spoken word artists from that town,” says Avery.

Canada wasn’t far behind. Since then, the Canadian spoken-word scene has taken off, as slam poetry has been embraced in cities like Winnipeg, Calgary, Halifax, and Montreal.

Avery blurs the lines between genres with his emotional and thought-provoking music, which has been compared to huge names such as Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, and Neil Young, who he has already covered with his electrifying beat-boxing skills.

“I’ll hear something they do and it keeps me inspired to keep going,” says Avery. He name-drops Corin Raymond, Lucinda Williams, and Mary Gauthier, seemingly unaware that he’s well on his way to living up to these legends.

If Avery’s accomplishments are any indication of what’s to come, he’s here to offer some promising material. He’s already working on an upcoming project which includes a 45-piece orchestra and a 30-piece choir.

“The only thing I’ve got is putting on a new show … it comes down to music that people feel, and the word people react to in a positive or negative way. But at least it’s stirring up some kind of emotion.”

C.R. Avery plays with his string quartet at The Green Room on February 27.

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Creative Supplement Fall 2021

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