Alberta’s Best Roots Music, 2010

Allow me to be the last to wish you a Happy New Year. In my first newspaper column of 2011, I reflect on the past by highlighting the 5 Alberta Roots Albums I most appreciated through 2010; maybe you’ll discover something you missed. Good stuff, all.

Roots music column, originally published January 7, 2011 in the Red Deer Advocate

This week, I look back on 2010 from an Alberta roots perspective; I hope you’ll be inspired to seek out music you may not have heard.

From Three Hills, Ruth Purves Smith and the 581’s Out in the Storm is that rare album revealing greater richness and depth with each listening. Every song is a little different from the next, and Purves Smith’s vocal dynamic is such that she inhabits each song. Ruth Purves Smith is not a new voice within the Alberta roots community, but many of us discovered her this year. Out in the Storm is a masterful album.

Ghostkeeper’s self-titled album took time to grow on me, but once it imbedded itself under my skin, it didn’t let go. Now Calgary-based, Shane Ghostkeeper and Sarah Houle experienced their adolescent music explorations within more the isolated confines of Northern Alberta, and their intense interest in folk and blues music melded with the discovery of noisier sounds. These influences come together on Ghostkeeper, a staggering half-hour of abstract sounds seemingly collected from the bottom of the basement stairs. Is it folk? Is it electronic? Is it rock? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Perhaps Alberta’s answer to The White Stripes, free-form music surges from Ghostkeeper.

J. R. Shore’s Talkin’ On A Bus is a more conventional singer-songwriter collection, but is no less challenging. From the album’s opening New Orleans-inspired horns and banjo, Shore and Jan McKittrick take listeners on intense musical journeys. Much of their imagery and references are American in origin, but the songs apply equally well to Alberta circumstances. Shore frames his songs as frequently with boogie-woogie vibes as he does with barroom blues and coffeehouse intensity. Talkin’ On A Bus is the kind of album we’ve come to expect from southern Alberta songwriters of the John Wort Hannam, Dave McCann, and Steve Coffey ilk.

Will White’s Rise Above is an excellent acoustiblue album from another Calgary songwriter. White has great original material with southern- Virginia and North Carolina- roots. His cinematic writing works because White doesn’t force things, and allows his words to flow toward a fully-realized conclusion. Similarly, his voice seems born to sing songs of the past. White’s debut album sparkles with Byron Myhre’s fiddling, and this balances White’s love of language. At turns light-hearted and intensely dark, Rise Above is thick with the very best elements of modern, acoustic roots music.

Donna Durand’s The Road Back may have been among the more surprising successes of the past year as it rivaled the best Canadian, acoustic music released this year. A quiet little album from a local singer-songwriter, Durand writes and sings rootsy country-folk with a voice just imperfect enough to be interesting. Whether Durand’s characters are brothers hauling coal in an “ice blue storm” during The Winter of 1943 or a prairie girl fretting inevitable heartbreak among the Wild Roses, Durand captures intimate relationships. Donna Durand’s music is steadfastly assured within this gleaming album, capturing both the geographic openness and the solid humanity of our province. 

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee- Donald

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