Friday, May 12, 2017

A Song A Day: Kensington Market, "If It Is Love"



MAY 12, 2017

“IF IT IS LOVE” (WRITER: KEITH McKIE)

ARTIST: KENSINGTON MARKET

RELEASED 1969 ON AARDVARK LP

Kensington Market, a five-man band, hailed from and was named for an ethnically diverse, bohemian district in their home city of Toronto, Canada.

Well, sort of. Lead guitarist Luke Watson was native to Toronto. But bassist Alex Darou was born in Sault St. Marie, Ontario, keyboardist/singer Gene Martynec in Germany, singer/guitarist Keith McKie in England, and drummer Jimmy Watson in Ireland.

The four non-Torontonians formed the group in early 1967. Following two singles on a small Canadian label, Gibson (heretofore leader of successful Canadian blues/rock group Luke & the Apostles) joined. McKie was the band’s creative linchpin, but Martynec and Gibson also penned memorable songs. An introduction to in-vogue producer Felix Pappalardi (who’d handled Cream and the Youngbloods) greased the way to a two-album contract with Warner Brothers.

In the midst of touring Canada and the states, the Avenue Road album followed, with the band displaying pop/rock smarts as well as an affinity for more progressive styles. While Avenue Road was good, and commercial, Warner gave it little promotion and, as a result, it flopped.

The next album, Aardvark, from 1969, was also produced by Pappalardi. Synthesizer player John Mills-Cockell guested, memorably, on several songs. But once again, their carefully recorded project received no promotion, sold very little, and soon deleted from Warners’ catalogue.

Certainly Aardvark is among the best major-label albums ever to fail completely on release. There isn’t a dud among its 13 songs and several cuts deserved to become radio staples.

Among them is the album’s second track, Keith McKie’s “If It Is Love.” While it evokes the Beatles, it doesn’t invoke them; charming, vulnerable, and brimming with wordplay, the lyric keeps you on your toes while the gorgeous melody works around the major keys but somehow also feels melancholy and doubtful. This is perfectly realized: top-level songwriting, playing, and production. It sounds cool, and it is cool.

The unraveling of Kensington Market began even before the album was finished. Disheartened by inconsistent live performances, managerial problems, and drug issues, several group members departed for other projects or just got out of music. The story turned tragic when bassist Alex Darou passed away, a recluse, a few years later.

As it turned out, Kensington Market may have just been a little early to the party. Perhaps with the wheels greased by the 1968–69 successes of the Guess Who and Steppenwolf, several other smaller Canadian aggregations broke through in the United States in 1970.

The Poppy Family, the Five Man Electrical Band, Mashmakhan, The Original Caste, and Lighthouse, representing various Canadian provinces, all found success on the U.S. singles charts. Aardvark is better.

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