Ron Hynes Stealing Genius (Borealis Records)
With a rich voice, the Newfoundland-born and based songwriter continues to find impressive ways to investigate not only his home province, but the experiences of common people in special ways. Borrowing from the writings of several poets and writers, the stealing genius element one presumes, Hynes has woven his own perspective to create memorable songs that breathe new life into the folk tradition.
Hynes extends his reach far with these 13 songs, burnished as they are by the stories of his people. Lullabies are presented alongside a ballad celebrating Terry Sawchuk, and a tale of historical resettlement is found alongside minor key ancestral balladry.
Is there a “Sonny’s Dream” or “Cryer’s Paradise” here? Perhaps not, but that isn’t to suggest that his latest collection doesn’t have memorable tunes. “My Father’s Ghost” perhaps comes closest to being hyped as an instant classic, with a spectral visitor making regular appearances in the homestead near the sea. In a similar vein, “Le Coeur de la Mer” laments what the ocean doesn’t always return. Each word is a treasure to be savoured.
The coward who shot Mr. Howard gets a song of his own in “Judgment;” justifying his actions with “Still it’s better to be famous for the wrong I done tonight, than to be nobody all my life,” Robert Ford isn’t portrayed in a positive light haunted though he may be by his actions. Paul Mills, who also produced the album, contributes spunky banjo to the song.
“All for the USA” and “Home from the USA/Yanks” highlight an aspect of Newfoundland economic migrations I hadn’t previously known, while “House” gives the family home, broken down as it may be, its due.
Hynes is less successful when he wears his heart on his sleeve, although “What If I Stayed” is more memorable than other similarly-styled songs.
Beyond all of this, “Sawchuk” may be the finest hockey-themed song I’ve heard. From the opening line (“His father was Ukrainian, he was born Canadian”) Hynes and poet Randall Maggs capture the mystery of an era of hockey I know largely from the backs of dog-eared O-Pee-Chee cards. The near-mythical status of a Sawchuk is elevated in every word and note. Only Hynes ever done that, if I may.
Stealing Genius strengthens the rich recorded legacy of Ron Hynes.