Canada Day Roots Songs, 2014 edition

It’s Canada Day up Canada way (this coming Tuesday),   and in the spirit of all things Canadian- the NHL amateur draft and Free Agent Frenzy, apple and blueberry crumble, bacon wrapped corn on the cob, and O.V. on the deck- I want to shine what little light Fervor Coulee produces on five homegrown roots albums that have been under-heard.

And when I say under-heard, I am putting the blame right where it belongs- on me- as I have given too little listening attention to these recordings. Perhaps they have been played the ‘just right’ number of times in your world, or maybe even overplayed in some, but I have had these albums sitting around the Fervor Coulee Bunker for weeks, months, and in one case almost a year. I listened to all of them when they first arrived, but for whatever reason- too much ‘real’ work, too much stress, too much laziness, too much other music, or shear neglect on my part- they obviously didn’t catch my ear the way other albums did.

My loss, then, because- having given them a second, third, and more listens this past week- there is quite a lot to appreciate within each one.

Brandon IsaakBrandon Isaak comes to us from the Yukon Territory. You can’t get much further on the continent from the birthplace of the blues that Whitehorse, but it is obvious that Isaak has a deep appreciation and understanding for acoustic blues. His album Here On Earth is impressive. Sticking to the acoustic format- if there is electricity firing any of these instruments, I can’t pick it out of the mix- Isaak has composed a baker’s dozen songs representing ‘roots and blues for the modern world.’

He has a deep, soothing singing voice, capable of a gruff touch when his songs demand such, but most often it is as straightforward and strong as a cup of Midnight Sun’s Heart’s Desire.

There is an autoplay CBC Radio interview clip with Brandon describing the effortless process that was the creation of Here On Earth.

He introduces the song I want to feature today, “All Night Long.”

The album performance of the song is a bit more developed, but the guitar-harp core remains consistent, although the addition of Keith Picot’s bass to the album version strengthens the performance.

I didn’t locate audio samples, but I’m sure you’ll find some if you look. Here on Earth is strong in its entirety, and well worth searching out if you are interested in blues and blues-related, singer-songwriter music.

RolandSometime last year, a Vancouver Island songwriter and musician Roland Digh sent me a copy of one of this five albums. The Lady Known As ‘She’ was released three years ago, and from listening to samples on his website it is obvious that he has continued to develop a clear vision for his music. [My mistake: Roland informs me that all five of his albums were released this past January. So, any ‘change’ I’m noticing in his work my simply be within my own wee head.] The more recent recordings are, at times and generally, more developed than the earlier performances captured on The Lady Known As ‘She.’ His music is a little bit country in a Murray McLauchlan kind of country way, a bit pop in that it is reminiscent of some of Chris deBurgh’s music. I was quite taken with his approach when I first heard the album, but as it wasn’t a new release I didn’t do anything with it. Until today, that is, when I listened to select bits of it and was once again quite enamoured with the piano-based song “Harbour Lady.” The imagery captured struck the mood for a raining Central Alberta morning.

Warning, autoplay all over the site so be prepared for that. He also has a very nice recording called “Where Poppies Blow” for free download, a fitting rendition of “In Flanders Fields.”

AlannaI know next to nothing about Alanna Gurr and the Greatest State, and my bandwidth allocation for the month is used up, so I can’t look anything up either. Their eight song e.p./album arrived on my desk sometime in late winter or early spring- not sure who sent it my way, but I’m glad they did. A nice mix of sophisticated roots- a bit glossy for my tastes, but still quite appealing.

The vocals are nicely supported- as opposed to overwhelmed- by the instrumentation. Gurr has a soft, flirty-sounding voice that belies some of the darkness lurking in the shadows. They call themselves a ‘minimalist rock troupe’ which works, I suppose.

You can listen to and purchase Late At Night here. I’m find the song “It’s Been a Long Time” quite appealing, but there are any number of songs that should strike a chord including “By My Side” which features a great guitar riff and “Thunder Rolls” which is an appropriately stark piece and a perfect conclusion to the e.p.

MelissaWith a similar sounding voice (in that they are both female and have some lightness within their vocal style), Melissa Payne puts a bit more punch into her music than Gurr which can’t be seen as a slight to either artist as both are enjoyable. High and Dry was co-produced by Greg Keeler (Blue Rodeo, duh) and James Mckenty (never heard of…again, I’m already paying overage fees.) The Blue Rodeo connection didn’t help this album get into my player as they are a band I lost interest in after they recorded their only necessary song, “Try.” Yes, I’m a jerk.

Anyway, not one to let my prejudices get in the way of listening (well, except where Michael Jackson is concerned) I did give Payne a few minutes of my time when the album arrived, but obviously not enough. I’m not certain there is a lot distinguishing her from a hundred other pop-roots performers, but there is ‘something’ that makes her voice linger in my memory.

Listening to the entire disc again today, I am taken with Payne’s voice. I can’t find the right phrase, but there is something quite substantial about her voice that is nicely softened by a pillowy, southern soul quality. I admitted I couldn’t find the right phrase, but there it is.  Listen to “Call Me A Fool” and see if you can do better.

The album’s energy keeps building (“Bring Me Back” may rock hardest) even when things are modulated for a change of pace (“Cool West Wind”). I think it is the kind of record that just needs to be discovered naturally- you can’t force yourself on it, it just has to hit you the right way at the right time. “Gunning For Me” reminds me a little of Lone Justice if that helps any.

clelaAgain, I have no idea how Clela Errington’s understated recording More Love and Happiness made its way to me, but I’m glad it did. [Note to self: start keeping better track of envelopes and one-sheets.] It is a wonderful little album of pensive pieces that are lyrically rich and musically diverse. If you appreciate folk-based sounds- think the McGarrigles, to whom the first song on the album is dedicated- brightened by the charm of the ukulele and a singer with no little bit of jump in her approach, consider visiting the CBC site to be one of the first to listen to More Love and Happiness. Listening to this album, I am reminded how much I used to listen to the music of performers such as Quartette and The Wyrd Sisters, and how I appreciate pure approaches to singing. Nothing fancy here.

This album would sound lovely in a small bookstore or coffee shop. “Angels on the Radio” (two mixes included) is a favourite, both for the “Pilot of the Airwaves” sentiment it captures- the power of the relationship we forge with the music we heard (and continue to hear) on the radio- and the mention of “Dolly, Townes, and Emmylou.” I also really appreciate “Home on High” as it appeals to my firmly held (and quizzical, for an atheist) faith in religion and those who truly believe.

I love artists who just lay it out on the line like Clela does.

Have a great Canada Day- play lots of roots music. Give these fine artists a listen, and as always- thanks for keeping Fervor Coulee on your radar.


@FervorCoulee on the Twitter thing.


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