John Wort Hannam Long Haul Black Hen Music
Eight albums. Time flies. John Wort Hannam has been on his roots-fueled troubadour journey for most of two decades, spinning songwriting gold from the chaff of the lives he has encountered, both in reality and imagination.
From early masterpieces like “Scotsman’s Bluff” and “Pier 21” to his previous album’s “Old Flame (New Regret)” and “The Quiet Life,” the (very) former teacher has created a universe of song populated by people familiar (folk messing where they shouldn’t be messing, in “Requiem for a Small Town”) and unique (“Beautiful Friend,” from Brambles and Thorns) while idealizing the landscapes of Canada (never better than in “Church of the Long Grass,” but stretching from near coast to coast to coast) without losing sight of our realities (“Man of God,” “Blue Collar,” and “Infantryman,” to cite but three examples.)
Quite simply, not only is John Wort Hannam one of our province’s finest folk singers and writers, he is one of North America’s greatest…and I’ll stand on anyone’s coffee table and declare this loudly and with fervor.
Since Love Lives On, it has been noticeable that John is increasingly comfortable turning his songwriting focus inward, revealing more of himself and his experiences and challenges in his songs; never truly a writer of drunken, rapscallion adventures, he has more frequently reflected on the quiet joys of community and family life. This holds true on Long Haul, his latest album of small joys and discoveries.
Written at least partly during the pandemic, it appears Wort Hannam has taken time to embrace that which are closest to him—family, home, and his art. “The Long Haul” captures this pretty plainly. Over a companionable Levon and Garth groove, he laments leaving home for the road, while expressing his appreciation for that which comprises his world: “I’m not in it for the short term, I’m in it for the slow burn.”
A cast of characters inhabit the “Twilight Diner,” and Wort Hannam reveals just enough of each to draw us into his sketched narrative—nothing much happens, but we feel the truth binding their lives as a transitory congregation. Better than most, Wort Hannam is able to write and sing about life’s passages, and he does this again with the fair brilliant and album closing “Young at Heart”: “May you die young at heart at a ripe, old age.”
The reflective, solitary thoughts of a father (“Hurry Up Kid” and blessedly lacking the rancor of “Cats in the Cradle,” and “Round and Round,” inspired by his grandfather) and “Other Side of the Curve” (aging, death, and loneliness) are balanced by lightness elsewhere. “Beautiful Mess” features John and Shaela Miller doing their best Prine and Dement (“Keep the Lou Reed record and the goddamn cat…”) while “Meat Draw” draws on localized traditions without elitist disdain; the fact that this most humble of songs is written with as much clever simplicity as his most elaborate is no small part of its—and John’s–charm.
As with Acres of Elbow Room, one realizes that we’ve come to take southern Alberta’s John Wort Hannam for granted. There are lots of singer-songwriters creating ‘this’ type of music across the continent. But none of them are John Wort Hannam. He has again crafted a masterful album, one filled with memories insightful and familiar, thoughts that may be our own, but never expressed with the clarity he achieves.
I need to revisit my list of ‘2021’s Best’ because we have a new contender for the top spot.
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