This year, as I have been for the past many, I am proud to be a member of the Polaris Music Prize jury. “The Polaris Music Prize is a not-for-profit organization that annually honours, celebrates and rewards creativity and diversity in Canadian recorded music by recognizing, then marketing the albums of the highest artistic integrity, without regard to musical genre, professional affiliation, or sales history, as judged by a panel of selected music critics.” The tenth Polaris Music Prize will be awarded this September. The winning artist receives $50 000 while those making the ten title short list receive $3000.
Each participating juror submits their own ballot of five eligible titles, and is free to argue the merits of those albums to their colleagues. My initial ballot featured five albums I felt quite strongly about, all with a roots bent.
1. Various Artists- Native North America (Vol. 1): Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966–1985
An absolutely stunning collection of music. I paid significant dollars for the finely packaged vinyl version; when I invest those kind of dollars in anything, well, ’nuff said. I don’t buy the argument that there is a reason not to vote for this set by comparing it to the volume of other archival, culture specific compilations that have been released over the last number of years- this one is ‘ours’ even if we are not of First Nations, Metis, or Inuit heritage. What matters to me is the heft of the music, the manner in which it was complied, and the value of the compilation considering how under-heard, under-known, and under-appreciated the vast majority of the music included has been within the wider Canadian listening public. This is an album that could only come from our country. Well, via Seattle and Light in the Attic. The music is incredibly listenable across the board. It isn’t often my number one choice makes the Long List: this one did.
2. Craig Moreau- The Daredevil Kid
. This amazing album was on repeat for weeks; holds up to, as one colleague suggested, ‘the congruent ones from other countries in the same genre’ (in reference to albums in general) and surpasses most of those. If Ray Wylie Hubbard had released this album, no one would have been surprised; it is actually a step and a half ahead of RWH’s latest, in my opinion. It received a lot of airplay on Stingray Folk Roots. It was a long shot to make the Long List and didn’t. Dang. I wrote about it here.
3. Pharis and Jason Romero – A Wanderer I’ll Stay
That music this good is coming from rural British Columbia isn’t as surprising as the fact that it didn’t make the long list. I thought it would sneak onto the list, but…We need more folkies on the jury, me thinks. I wrote about it here.
4. Jon Brooks – The Smiling & Beautiful Countryside Now, here is another songwriter from our country who-given half a chance- would stand with the finest from any damn where. I thought it was a really strong album, but didn’t stand a chance against the commercial onslaught the majority of the Long List represents. Drake? Alvvays? C’mon. The great thing about the Polaris Music Prize is it is entirely democratic, and everyone’s vote is equal; that means I’m not always (ever?) going to be in the majority.
5. Frazey Ford – Indian Ocean After the Craig Moreau album, the disc that spent most time in my Top 5. It almost slipped out a couple times, but I kept coming back to it. Ford has an approach like no one else and, with Amy Black and The SteelDrivers, is keeping the spirit of Muscle Shoals moving forward.
The entire Long List is available here.
There are still a few roots albums I can comfortably vote for in addition to my #1 and #5 picks: Steph Cameron’s Sad-Eyed Lonesome Lady
was in my Top 7, and is worthy of attention within this group of 40 albums. Lee Harvey Osmond is always worth a listen, and while Beautiful Scars
hasn’t hit me like previous albums, it will receive several listens in the weeks ahead. The Buffy Sainte-Marie album Power in The Blood
is, I think, a favourite for the Prize, and it will most likely be on my final ballot. There are several others I will give serious consideration to, and some of those aren’t close to anyone’s definition of roots.
There is no shortage of great music on the 2015 Polaris Music Prize Long List. I just wish some of my underdogs had received more votes.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald