9 folk artists that prove Canadiana is alive and well
by Ivan Raczycki
March 12, 2014
Photo: The Weather Station
Canadiana is an enormous blanket of a term. It tries to hold the worlds of alt-country, folk, bluegrass, and the blues under one roof, all bound by our far-reaching national borderlines. This hypothetical sheet is stretched so thin, some singers and songwriters spill out and shine, while others get left behind.
The following is a list of nine that covers both: artists who deliver top-notch expressions in the North American tradition, either on the rise or deserving to be risen. So load up CBC Radio, grab a few Labatts, and check ’em out—the CRTC demands you do.
New Country Rehab
“The guys everyone wants in their band, in a band.” That’s how the ole press machine used to push New Country Rehab, and it ain’t wrong. NCR are a Canadiana dream team of live and studio session players who save their best work for their own material. Last year’s Ghost of Your Charms took the most interesting parts of bluegrass, country, and indie rock and progressed them one technical step forward, keeping a keen sense of melody in tact. Imagine the Punch Brothers, but with better hooks—and it’s a cure for what ails your FM-country addled heart.
Al Tuck’s led a wild, weaving, 20-plus-year career while boozing and cruising under the radar of most Canadian folk fans. The P.E.I.-born, honorary Nova Scotian songwriter has danced in and out of the spotlight, releasing albums on Sloan’s Murderecords and Joel Plaskett’s New Scotland label while being touted as a living legend by the likes of Leslie Feist and Jason Collett. His Polaris-longlisted latest effort, Strangers at the Wake, found the fascinating middle-ground between the Dylan-goes-electric years and the Dylan-goes-Christian years; it’s a jammy, drunk-on-the-blood spiritual exploration and excavation. Preach, brother Tuck, preach.
The Weather Station
Though Tamara Lindeman logged time as a member of the sprawling Toronto collective Bruce Peninsula, her solo output as The Weather Station is a decidedly more hushed affair. Her sparse folk songs, a soft amalgamation of Joni Mitchell and Sun Kil Moon, found a home on You’ve Changed Records, whose founders Daniel Romano (of solo fame, and ex-Attack in Black), Ian Kehoe (Marine Dreams, also ex-AIB), and Steve Lambke (Constantines, Baby Eagle) recently collaborated with Lindeman for a series of duets released as audio postcards. Though her last full-length was 2011’s All of it Was Mine, a recent tour with fellow Canadian folkie Basia Bulat suggests another record could be in the forecast.
The Devin Cuddy Band
Devin Cuddy, despite a recent stint opening for dad Jim’s band Blue Rodeo, has been actively shunning nepotism and earning his own keep as an old-time piano-blues revivalist since around 2010. Living and bartending at Toronto roots-mainstay the Cameron House (whose eponymous record label hosts acts like Whitney Rose, Sam Cash, and the aforementioned Al Tuck), Cuddy pounds and plays their in-house pinnaner like a genuine Dixieland delight, unobscured by the gimmickry some era-centric acts can fall into.
If Lucinda Williams was born in Cornwall, ON and smoked a lot of hash, she would probably sound like Fiver, the most recent project of One Hundred Dollars/The Highest Order’s Simone Schmidt. Their debut album Lost the Plot is a hardened hunk of grunge-country, moody and melancholic but resolutely rough-hewn. It’s no wonder Fucked Up’s Long Winter series scooped up Schmidt for a spot on their most recent showcase (with Cancer Bats headlining, natch): this is heavy stuff.
Samantha Martin and the Haggard
Samantha Martin has a voice that holds the entire history of blues, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll in every note she belts. Cutting her teeth in Toronto’s Canadiana clubhouse, the Dakota Tavern, Martin and her Haggard band sharpened their catch-all alt-country music to the praises of national press and peers like Luke Doucet and Serena Ryder. The Edmonton-born, Lion’s Head, ON-raised roots rocker is currently touring Europe. All worries of miscommunication or language barriers will be shattered by her powerhouse of a throat.
Steve Dawson is a Juno-award winning producer and collaborator who’s worked with leading Northern lights like Old Man Luedecke, the Deep Dark Woods, and Bruce Cockburn, to name a reputable few. Last month he released his instrumental guitar opus Rattlesnake Cage, a Canadian primitive record in line with the legendary John Fahey’s wordless folk storytelling. As the press release for the record states, “sometimes it’s best to just put up a microphone in a room, sit down, and play your guitar.”
Andrea Ramolo and Cindy Doire were Transcanada Highway hellions, serving time in living rooms, dive bars, and cafés coast to coast before collaborating as the smoky alt-country duo Scarlett Jane. It’s all dim-lit rooms and forever breaking hearts with these two, but their chemistry is so earnest and natural, their production so tasteful, their harmonies so on point, that the songs transcend tropes and feel fresh. Also, the bilingual Doire adds an extra dose of Canadiana credibility. C’est bon.
Donovan Woods is Canada’s folk teddybear and national bedtime storyteller: witty, well-worn, and warm in one cuddly package. Don’t Get Too Grand, both the title of his latest record and his aesthetic mantra, finds the Sarnia songwriter gently reflecting on small-towns and ex-partners with a quiet cornfield’s grace. Also, he has the best highly-literate tired old man Twitter presence you could expect from from a highly-literate tired old man.