Steve Mahabir’s family moved from Trinidad to Canada when he was seven, exchanging an idyllic island lifestyle for the gritty Toronto neighborhood of Parkdale. The Caribbean rhythms and steel drums of childhood quickly morphed into a rock and roll adolescence for Mahabir as he turned to the electric guitar. He co-founded the seminal Canadian alt.rock band Groovy Religion and held down a residency at The Beverley Tavern’s infamous “Elvis Mondays” — ground zero for Toronto’s explosive 1980s Queen Street music scene. Mahabir recorded three albums with the group, appeared on compilations and soundtracks, backed Jim Carroll for several Toronto shows and shared bills with the likes of the Beastie Boys, Hüsker Dü, Dream Syndicate, Barenaked Ladies and many others. He also played with Scott B. Sympathy, Parts Found in Sea and Ministry of Love before largely putting music on the back burner as he started a family and then a storefront business in Parkdale. The street cred he once earned with a guitar was maintained instead with an open-door policy and unreserved fraternity.
Music still coursed through Mahabir’s veins, however, and he’s now finally set to release his debut solo album, Angel in Parkdale, through Big Canoe/Bungalo/Universal. The 16-song, 50-minute record offers an eclectic mix of instrumentation and sounds that combine to create a concept album that pulls no punches in telling a gripping story of a one-time drug dealer and his girlfriend that’s based on real people and situations that Mahabir has dealt with over the past 16 years. Some songs were written in just 15 minutes while others took a few years to gestate, but they form a cohesive collection of driving rock, country-based roots, simmering ballads and haunting pop numbers.
“Parkdale has people on the street hearing voices, smoking crack, selling their bodies,” says Mahabir. “But if you listen to their stories and peel back the layers, you can make a connection.”
“Hope I.C.U.” deals with the numerous drug overdoses Mahabir has heard of in the neighbourhood. “Wondering Where You Are” is about imagining where your daughter is after she’s taken away by her mother, while “Plastic Flowers” takes that another agonizing step further to the point where that person doesn’t see the child for more than a decade. “The Biggest Drag” looks at the depression that can result from failed relationships and substance abuse.
The guitarist/singer invited friends to bring his vision to life, including: two Groovy Religion bandmates, bassist John Borra (Rattlesnake Choir, The Screwed) and drummer Glenn Milchem (Blue Rodeo, The Swallows); keyboardist Michael Boguski (Blue Rodeo); and steel guitarist Mickey Andrews (Stompin’ Tom Connors). The bed tracks were recorded in three days with Juno Award-nominated engineer/producer Peter J. Moore (Cowboy Junkies, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Hard Core Logo) at his renowned The E Room studio.
Angel in Parkdale was produced by Borra, Moore and Mahabir and was rounded out masterfully with the addition of trumpet, trombone, saxophone, violin, harp, tabla and backing vocals, with contributions from the likes of friends David Madden (Bob Marley, Zap Pow), Miranda Mulholland (Great Lake Swimmers, Belle Starr), William New (Groovy Religion) and former professional wrestler turned country singer Sweet Daddy Siki.
“There are a lot of interesting characters on this album,” says Mahabir. “I remember one session where we started the morning with chanting from two Tibetan monks that I know from Parkdale who blessed the studio with their positive energy and finishing off the evening with a mostly Jamaican horn section.”
The video for lead single “Watch Your Mouth” was shot in and around Mahabir’s Parkdale office, adding realism and reinforcing the importance of the area to the material. It stars former professional pillow fighter Dinah Mite and Mahabir’s son Seth and features appearances by Moore, Borra, Madden and Siki. You can watch the video here. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjbICkQjThE)
More singles and videos will be released as the Angel in Parkdale rollout progresses.