Ten Roots Songs for Canada Day, 2011   Leave a comment


To quote Stompin’ Tom Connors, it’s Canada Day up Canada
way, and in honour of our great Canadian celebration- marked traditionally by hailstorms, watching the NHL Free Agent Frenzy on TSN, and mega-sleep-ins to recover from a school year (6 PM last evening until 7:45 this morning, a personal best perhaps)- I thought I would offer up 10 Roots Songs for Canada Day.

Not a list of the 10 greatest Canadian songs, or my favourites even- just 10 songs to consider pulling off the shelf or downloading (legally, dagnabit) this DFKADD (day formerly known as Dominion Day).

  1. “8:30 Newfoundland” Mike Plume Band- Okay, maybe
    this is the best roots song itemizing the charms and challenges of our fine
    country. As a proud Canadian- one who doesn’t usually agree with our governments’
    decisions- this song is 4:08 of joy. I haven’t been to all the places mentioned, but that doesn’t make it less appealing- we’re all tied together, especially those of us who watched lots of CBC in the 60s and 70s, by the fact that we know what ‘8:30 Newfoundland’ means. Originally released on 8:30 Newfoundland 2009
  2. “Acadian Driftwood” The Band- Maybe the band’s finest moments this side of “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” A stylized account of the forced exodus of the Acadians from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and their eventual settlement in Louisiana. I took my Canadian history courses in university, but I never really understood the expulsion of the Acadians until I started to understand the meaning behind and context of “Acadian Driftwood.” Unfortunately, that didn’t happen until I was well out of university. A great listen:  a solid groove, a story clearly told, and wonderful vocal performances from the triad of Levon Helm, Rick Danko, and Richard Manuel. Originally released on Northern Lights-Southern Cross 1975
  3. “O Saskatchewan” Matt Masters- As a reluctant Saskatchewanian for a few years, I came to appreciate the province in ways that others- like me, once upon a time- simply can’t because of our stereotypes and our willingness to go for the easy joke. Saskatchewan has always been viewed by Albertans as the poor cousin to the east, but it really isn’t that different from us, save the mountains. Yes, you can see your dog run away for three days out on the prairie, but the same can be said for most of Alberta. The real Saskatchewan is pretty magnificent and I got to explore a bit of it living in
    the north country for a few years: you don’t know Saskatchewan until you’ve
    walked the Methye Portage three different times and been left breathless each
    time at the view of the Clearwater River as you break through the bush at that
    final ridge. Matt Masters doesn’t get much off the Trans-Canada in his view of
    the province, but we’ll forgive that as his appreciation for Saskatchewan
    appears genuine, and the album gets its release today. Originally released on All-Western Winners TODAY, July 1, 2011!
  4. “Do You Know Slim Evans?” Maria Dunn- As we see labour and worker rights eroded weekly in our country- ask the postal workers and Air Canada workers about that- it is good to reflect on the sacrifices of those who came in previous generations and made the choices necessary to allow others- including those workers who today benefit greatly from their efforts while speaking negatively of unions- to lead more satisfying and fair lives. Maria Dunn’s We Were Good People is a wonderful collection of songs telling the stories of those who really founded our province. In short, Slim Evans was a labour organizer who was accused and convicted of misusing union money; he had diverted funds to feed the families of miners on strike during the winter of 1921-22. Every story tells a picture, and this album does more than that- it allows the seldom heard stories of Albertan pioneering labour organizers, political rabble-rousers, and ordinary people to be shared. Originally released on We Were Good People 2004
  5. “Out on the Weekend” Doug Paisley- A list of Canadian roots songs without Neil Young would be akin to an issue of enRoute without Neil Young being represented on the in-flight audio program. I chose to go with this cover by Doug Paisley rather than Neil himself because, well frankly Neil isn’t too dang Canadian these days, is he. As part of Mojo magazine’s never-ending quest to recreate every single album released between 1965 and 1975, Harvest received the honour last fall and this track is one of the standout performances. Whether we head toward L.A. or not, what Canadian hasn’t had the urge to “pack it in and buy a pickup”?  Originally released on Harvest Revisited 2010
  6. “Prairie Town” T. Buckley- From an Albertan I’m convinced will become a household name in roots circles, “Prairie Town” is songwriting perfection in under four and a half minutes. This one has the lonesome qualities of the finest songs, crafted with an eye for detailed images that resonate with anyone who was raised on or near the prairie, built upon decisions of love and home. Do you stay or do you follow? Originally released on Roll On 2010
  7. “Love Shines” Ron Sexsmith- A power pop masterpiece. Everyone knows Ron Sexsmith doesn’t have the most commercially accessible voice, but it does have its appeal. The recent documentary about Sexsmith and his journey to find himself- not to mention album sales- shares a title with this number, and much like the movie this song has a slow build that sucks you right in until you’re hanging on every phrase and sound. Beautiful. Originally released on Long Player, Late Bloomer 2011.
  8. “I Like Trains” Fred Eaglesmith- As a farm kid, I can still remember the thrill of waiting at the crossing at Duffield as the train passed through town. Sitting in the red Ford pickup, counting the cars, waving at the engineer and the crew in the caboose…those are memories as fresh today as they were when they happened forty years ago. All kids like trains. Only folks like Fred get to write about them. I love the phrase “shake the gravel loose”- it captures the trembling that you felt as a kid as the train
    roared by. Originally released on Drive-In Movie 1995.
  9. “Sometimes I Think I Can Fly” Suzie Vinnick- Sparse blues. If I could play music, it wouldn’t sound anything like this. But I wish it would. Originally released on Me
    ‘N’ Mabel
    2011.
  10. “Pier 21” John Wort Hannam- This is where the journey started for many Canadians of previous generations. Like Maria Dunn and I suppose Robbie Robertson, John Wort Hannam gives life to Canadian history, and any one of a dozen of his songs could have had a place on this list. With the exception of its Native people, Canada is a country of immigrant stock and JWH captured that experience in this song from his debut:

“He said Go Laddie Go, Go Laddie Go, Find your dreams over on Pier 21, He said Go Laddie Go, Go Laddie Go, But don’t you ever forget where you’re from.” Originally released on Pocket Full of Holes 2003

And that sums up Canada Day for me- “Don’t forget where you’re from!” We or our ancestors might have come from Scotland, Germany, Ukraine, India, and anyone of twenty-four dozen other countries, but we’re Canadian. And let’s not forget it.

Now, go play some Trooper.

Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald

BTW- I posted a similarly-themed but different posting of 10 Canadian Bluegrass songs over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass: http://www.countrystandardtime.com/blog/FervorCouleeBluegrass/entry.asp?xid=770

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