The Outlanders Debut Release

Published in The Annex Gleaner(Toronto)

     The Orbit Room in Little Italy was filled with the grooves of Toronto band the Outlanders last Thursday night. The quartet played a selection of tracks off of their new CD “And the story goes.” to support their recent release.

     The band’s eclectic sounds filled the quaint dimly lit space while the crowd seemed transfixed by their poetic riffs. The music was at times funky, at other times it was twangy, while some tracks had a smooth blues base. Other songs were inspired by roots or folk while jazz improvisation floats through many of their tunes. “The music is more about simplicity at its core.” Brett Higgins the band’s bassist said.

     The band’s name, The Outlanders, signifies the different influences to their music, as it is a mixture of urban sounds and songs that might be heard just outside the city limits. Each member brings their own musical influences to their creative process.

     “If we listened to the same thing it wouldn’t be good,” said Joanna Borraneo the Outlander’s piano player. Joanna has a background in classical and jazz piano, while the band’s drummer Joshua Van Tassel experiments with electronic music. Joel Schwartz, on lead guitar has a jazz and pop past as does double bassist Bret Higgins.

     It’s hard to believe that the group has only been together for over a year as their individual sounds intertwine and complement each other fantastically. Joel said, “The music is pared down and understated, soulful and truthful in the attempt. It’s not flashy or tricky. It’s music that feels really good.”

     The band’s music does feel good. Their tracks are instrumental but they are anything but background music. “We wanted to make songs that resonate with people.” Joel added. Each song affects the listener as they seem to represent separate stories that might take place in a New York jazz bar, or a Louisiana club. Joel actually began writing some of the band’s first songs after attending a Vipassana meditation retreat. His own soul searching has led to some very thoughtful and soothing songs.

     Other songs pay homage to a departed friend and to some selections of Joni Mitchell’s music. “[The track] Gasp is an elegy to a life beginning with Josh’s heartbeat bass drum pulse,” read the liner notes. Josh’s soft drum sounds create a peaceful rhythm on this lulling track.

     Joel added, “These songs evolved out of conversations about the kind of band we wanted to be and it happened.” The artistic effort was supported by an Ontario Arts Council grant which Joel describes as being invaluable. “It was the difference between staying where we were and going somewhere.” The band is definitely somewhere now as they have done numerous gigs in the Annex area at the Trane Studio, the Tranzac, the Central, and the Cadillac. They have also played the Roy Thompson Hall Lounge. Joanna and Brett also live in the Annex area of Toronto. The group is also thankful for the opportunities that have arisen for them in the Toronto music community.

     The band will be promoting their CD “…and this is how his story goes” at upcoming jazz festivals and gigs around the city. Look for The Outlanders at Hart House’s Arbour room for a free concert on November 14th at 9pm. They will also be playing on December 5th at the Tranzac at 10pm. More information about the group can be found at

Photo credit: Asli Alin Higgins

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