The Magnificent 7s are fighting the good fight.
Much like the gunslingers in the 1960 film the band is named after, the local old-time roots/bluegrass group is working on behalf of the underdog, sharing stories from the streets and travelling the continent in their trusty van, Winnifred.
"I don't know if the rest of the band would agree with me, but seven seems to be a unifying number in cultures and religions dating back through history. Ida (Sawabe) came up with the name, but how she came up with the pluralized sevens I'm not sure," says vocalist-guitarist Matt Magura.
"It sounds cool enough: gunslingers trying to do right by the world. The downtrodden."
The band is actually a quintet, featuring Magura, bassist Sawabe, guitarist TJ Blair, banjo player David Nishikawa and fiddler Andy Bart, but there have been as many as seven people in the group over the years as it evolved from a group of friends getting together for a Sunday jam session into a hard-touring outfit that has put 80,000 kilometres on its 1991 GMC Vandura in the past two years.
As the band racked up kilometres, it won fans all over North America, from Dawson City, Yukon, to the southern United States, with a mixture of country and western and bluegrass. Its sophomore album, All Kinds of Mean, puts a greater focus on originals and details some of the experiences the band has had since its first album, Dirty Roads, was released in 2008.
Local Mag 7s fans will get to hear the new songs when they unveil their new album tonight at the West End Cultural Centre. (Admission is $15. Local singer-songwriter Bobby Stahr will open the show.)
"It's not the kind of music you can necessarily just pull out of your ass and be authentic," Magura, 32, says. "We want to make sure we're writing good songs that mean something to us. We're not just trying to crank out hits; they're personal and heartfelt songs. I like to think of them as honest approaches."
Take the title track, for example. The ballad describes a man who is trying to turn things around after a rough life, but doesn't know if he'll live long enough to make that happen.
The song was inspired by Magura's experience living downtown and his interactions with some of the people he has met over the years who haven't had an easy go of it, but still hold on to the dream that things could get better.
"It's a song for people who have a harder time of life and it's an acknowledgment that it's a tough city to live in and it's easy to give up," he says.
"There's fear and anxiety and depression, but there's also a lot of good out there and you have to be able to fight for what you want,"
The 12-track album, released on local imprint Transistor 66, was recorded live off the floor and includes writing contributions from every member, along with a couple of covers. On their debut, they added some twang to local punk group Propagandhi's song Today's Empires, Tomorrow's Ashes; this time they tip their hats to Winnipeg's musical history by taking on Neil Young's Unknown Legend.
The covers reflect the rock SSRqn' roll side of the band, whose members have played in local bands such as the Wild Things, Lonely Vulcans, Dust Rhinos, Ian La Rue & the Condor and the Ex-Girlfriends over the years.
And as much as each band member enjoys a diverse spectrum of musical styles, they all are drawn to the honesty and authenticity of the traditional acoustic form, Magura says.
"The appeal is growing for rootsy and old-time music and it's nice to see people are returning to the old sound while brining some contemporary styles to the music," he says.
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The year might be nearing an end, but local artists aren't done releasing new music.
Along with the Magnificent 7s, there are two other Winnipeg bands releasing albums this weekend.
Tonight, roots-rock band the Empty Standards will release its debut album, Waiting Out the Flood, at the Park Theatre with guests Alex Campbell, Bill Western, Jess Rae Ayre and Amber Nelson joining the band throughout the night. Vince Andrushko will open. Admission is $20.
On Saturday, veteran rock outfit the JD Edwards Band will be at the WECC to release its third full-length album, Roads & Roads, along with an iPhone app so you can have the six-piece group at your fingertips anytime you want. Admission is $10.
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'Tis the season for annual holiday shows.
On Friday four different bands and artists will be holding their annual Christmas shows in an attempt to spread some musical peace and good will.
The biggest of the bunch is Quinzmas, which has moved from the WECC to the Burton Cummings Theatre, where rock band Quinzy will entertain the crowd with their usual, and unusual, bag of tricks. House of Doc opens. Tickets are $33 at Ticketmaster and every ticket holder will receive a new EP, The Flats. Bring a tin for the bin for Winnipeg Harvest.
Singer-songwriter Don Amero's cleverly titled Amero Little Christmas is at the Ellice Theatre, where he will release his new EP, Christmastime. Jaylene Johnson opens the show. Admission is $15 with all proceeds donated to West Broadway-based community nutrition program Agape Table.
Over at the Park Theatre, jazz musician Doug Edmond hosts the Starry Nights show where he is re-releasing his 2010 Christmas album, Starry Nights. Roots group Sweet Alibi will open. Admission is $15.
Down Osborne Street at the Cavern, rock band Knuckleduster will be treat fans to their original holiday favourite, The Christmas Song (check out the video on YouTube), and possibly some puppets. El Diablo and the Deeds open. Admission is $10.