Circle of Music

One listen led to another, or how I got to here from there.

We (Joel Weatherly @ Spill Magazine and I) went to a concert last week to hear a band that we had been following for many, many years. We had been to see them every time they came to Edmonton, we had all of their recordings in multiple formats, we had played a cover of one of their songs in a now defunct band that we played in and we even had a test pressing from one of their recording sessions. In short, we are not your run of the mill fans, we are fanatics when it comes to Rural Alberta Advantage.

Rural Alberta Advantage, hereafter referred to as RAA, were on the last stop of a short but intense road trip to test drive some new material that they will be recording shortly and giving us, the fans, a first listen as well as our first chance at seeing their newest member play live.

On September 12, 2016, Amy Cole, a founding member of RAA, announced her departure from the group. Amy’s shoes, or socks which she often played in, would not be easy to fill. Amy was not just a multi-instrumentalist, she played those multiple instruments simultaneously. It was always fascinating for me to see Amy playing keyboards, singing, playing foot bass and either banging on a drum or shaking a tambourine. She would have both hands, one foot and her vocals all going at the same time and sounding perfect, an amazing talent. And big socks to fill, but Robin Hatch has stepped up to the task, and judging by the teaser songs they have released and by seeing and hearing her in concert, she fits. She sounded comfortable on both the older material, which they keep reworking with little tweaks and the new material which she no doubts contributed to the creation of.

Having said all of that, I can now get to the point I was trying to make. I liked the opening act. As per usual, they were a local act trying to get some exposure and I liked what I heard from Jordan Norman and the Wisdom Teeth. HIs web bio says that Jordan has been playing and writing since he was in his early teens, I would peg him at the late twenties or early thirties now, sorry Jordan if I blew the estimate. He comes across as easy going, comfortable with banter and a competent guitar player. His sound brought back memories of other artists with both the guitar and vocals. I heard faint echoes of early Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young in the guitar playing but it was the vocals that stirred the sharpest recollection for me. I couldn’t stop thinking of Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks because of Jordan and the two ladies who sang with him. The harmonies put me on the Last Train To Hicksville.

I got off the train before it got to Hicksville, at a whistle stop called Original Recordings. This album has some great call and response between Dan Hicks and the female vocalists in his band, hence the connection to Jordan Norman and the Wisdom Teeth. This album has elements of jazz, swing, country and country swing. A highly listenable album that I find myself going back to revisit on a regular basis.

Listening to Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks put me in the mood for some jazz so I pulled Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers Featuring Woody Shaw & Cedar Walton – Anthenagin. This was a Goodwill bargain bin find but the vinyl plays clean and was a pleasant follow-up to Dan Hicks. Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers are an institution in music and this album does not disappoint, it is a good strong listen and the playing of Woody Shaw and Cedar Walton just make it stronger.

One jazz listen led to another, if I were to take Jordan Norman, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, and Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks and put them in a blender I think something like this would come out: Norman Blake / Tut Taylor / Sam Bush / Butch Robins / Vassar Clements / David Holland / Jethro Burns. That is not only the list of performers on the album, it also the unwieldy title. This is a pretty tight set by some very talented individual who are able to leave their egos at the door and work some musical magic as a group. An album well worth looking for.

Listening to the violin stylings of Vassar Clements left me wanting more so I picked Oscar Peterson featuring Stephan Grappelli on the original Prestige recording.

This was another Goodwill pick and the cover is a disaster but the vinyl is like new. Some great swing, some great jazz and above all else: great musicians playing off the energy of each other. This is a really good double album that also features bassist Niels Pedersen and drummer Kenny Clarke. Oscar Peterson is of course an icon of Canadian music and one good icon deserves another so Ian Tyson was next up on the turntable.

Ian Tyson has a deep catalogue and picking a single album to represent him would be an insult to the breadth of music he has released so I narrowed it down to one that sort of covers a good stretch of his career. It even has a nod in the general direction of jazz by the inclusion of “Irving Berlin (Is 100 Years Old Today)”. I did say it was only a nod, and only in the general direction. Anyhow this album does showcase Ian Tyson writing about what he loves, cowboys and open spaces. Having been an amateur cowboy back in my younger days, another nod and only in the general direction, I can relate to many of his song offerings. Those less enamoured of the cowboy music will no doubt find at least one song more pop music friendly; “Four Strong Winds”. A song that is an icon in and of itself, it has often been called the ultimate Canadian song. Originally released by Ian and Sylvia in 1963 it has since been covered by too many artists to list as well as being covered by Ian himself on this album. I prefer the original version myself but this version is decent enough. There is also some almost jazzy violin particularly on “Since The Rain”, once again it is only a nod and only in the general direction.


One good Canadian cowboy deserves another so I gave Corb Lund and the Hurtin’ Albertans a spin. I have had the good fortune of seeing Corb Lund live numerous times and I am never disappointed. He is not only a good musician but he also has a keen sense of history and cowboy culture, combine that with good songwriting and we have ourselves an eminently listenable album. I can relate to “You Ain’t a Cowboy) If You Ain’t Been Bucked Off”, I always got bucked off and that is not a nod in the general direction, it is a fact. I also get a kick out of “Bible on The Dash”, I keep mine in a dash cubby hole, never know when it will come in handy. Corb Lund and the Hurtin’ Albertan bring a different sensibility to country and western music. Much of the sound and even the lyrics owe as much to jazz, blues and rock as they do to traditional country and western. This album covers everything from grave diggers to goth girls, a little something for everyone, except maybe the opera fans out there.

Having reconnected with the music of Corb Lund I just had to dig out my old copy of Waste and Tragedy by the Smalls, the band that broke Corb Lund into the music business. I have listened to this album many, many times and it just gets better each listen. This time I focused on the bass playing by Corb Lund and it was good.

Having come almost full circle back to Edmonton, Jordan Norman to The Smalls who both got their musical careers started in Edmonton I wanted one more full on Edmonton band to seal the circle of music. That belongs to manraygun and the album of choice is Twilight Speak. I had the pleasure of seeing manraygun play live and they are an amiable and musically interesting group. They sing songs that evoke images of rural Alberta as well as emotions that ring true no matter where you live.

So there we have; it a string of musical gems that start and end in my hometown of Edmonton.

I enjoyed Ksenija Sidorova on the accordion at the Winspear with Bill Eddins and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. There were moments during her performance that I was lost in the music. A wonderful place to be.

Corb Lund Concert Review

I don’t remember the first time I saw Corb Lund play live, must have been back about ’06 or ’07. It was in Churchill Square, or the Concrete Polygon as we like to call it. I think it was for the food festival, anyhow, I was working at Hope Mission at the time so Valerie and Joel met me there and we walked over to Churchill Square to catch his show. Some of my co-workers were already listening to his music and I knew they had good taste in music so I thought it prudent to hear what they were listening to and raving about so much.
My suspicions were confirmed, they did have good taste in music. Corb Lund and his band delivered a crowd-rousing show that left me wanting more. So I went to the store and bought two CD’s: Modern Pain and Five Dollar Bill.
The Music resonated with me. It spoke of things I was familiar with and we humans do like the familiar even when it is new.
I had been raised on country and western music. My Dad was a guitar player heavily influenced by Hank Williams and the Carter family with a little Flatt and Scruggs thrown in. In fact, I didn’t know there were other kinds of music until my teen years when I was introduced to rock and roll. Since then I have been on a life-long journey of new musical discoveries, everything from ABBA to Zappa but always retaining a love for country and western music.
Corb Lund was a breath of fresh country air in an era when most country and western music was barely discernible from pop music. Corb Lund knew his musical heritage and didn’t stray too far from the template.
On February 6th at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium, henceforth know as the Jube, I was able to revisit the music of Mr Lund and it warmed my soul. His music has changed, not a lot, but it has matured and grown with him. His lyrics are the icing on the cake for me though. In his early albums I tapped my toes along to “We Used to Ride ’em”, and I really used to. I could relate. I used to ride ’em, not for very long, but I did. I was good for six seconds but that isn’t enough in a rodeo. I used to ride ’em though and Corb Lund gave me a song about it. And then “The Truck Got Stuck”, I was there. The only difference between a 4 wheel drive and a two wheel drive is that the 4 wheel drive gets stuck further in. I got stuck more times that I care to remember, even had the Hutterites pull me out once. I laughed as a flood of memories washed over me in tune to “The Truck Got Stuck”.
Corb Lund delighted me and many others that February evening with a well-rounded show of both golden oldies and new tunes. His backing band were amazing, being an envious guitar player wannabe I was particularly impressed by Grant Siemens. He blew me away with his guitar, mandolin and lap steel playing. Now I want a baritone guitar, thanks a lot Grant. Another highlight of the evening was a guest appearance by Geoff Berner singing “That’s What Keeps The Rent Down Baby”. A seriously hilarious song that resonated with me from the years that I worked in the inner city with the homeless, marginalised and wonderful people that live there. Mr Berner sang with The Hurtin’ Albertans backing him up and it was good. After the concert, Corb Lund was in the lobby signing and smiling but there was a road weariness evident in his face. He was polite and gracious but stopped short of being in the moment, I understand. It’s not an easy life and after working hard for an hour and a half he probably would have enjoyed a quiet room with a view instead of groupies and autograph hounds. I am in the latter bunch, an autograph seeker. He was polite enough to do two signatures for me and with a third on a record that I bought at the merch table, I left the Jube a happy man.
If The Corb Lund Band, The Hurtin’ Albertans or The Smalls ever play your town I would highly recommend taking the opportunity to hear them live. They are good on vinyl at thirty-three and a third but even better on a stage in your hometown (bonus if it’s Corb Lund’s hometown as well).