|Various "Six Strings ONorth Of The Border Vol.1" Borealis Records BCD128|
under Folk/Blues says the insert - right enough. Penny Lang from Montreal
started in the early 60s at the Café Andre and never put down that battered
acoustic for the rest of the decade - the glory days for the North American
revival as echoed here. Penny's was a big name and pitched as an anthology
of her repertory over the years 1963/1978, here are her back pages recorded
'live' with no overdubs, no vocal histrionics, no marketing budget and 'straight
from the heart' feel - hey, this IS Folk music! I'd almost forgotten how
unpretension sounds but here it is. 'In the Pines', ' Trouble In Mind' and
relationship songs from the likes of Patrick Sky, Janis Ian and Bonnie Raitt
make for an aural memory of an era when smoky Clubs ruled a world that you
couldn't even begin to relate to today's young thrusters whose Canadian
scene probably begins with Winnipeg Festival. Anyone who can command liner
notes from Jesse Winchester that outlines them as 'great onstage, great
backstage. It's possible that one of us still owes the other for a beer'
is just fine with me! A memoir from an innocent time - an age of discovery
that isn't coming back.
Heidi Fleming, Penny's Manager is thanked by Michael Jerome Browne for her good advice. Not that he needs it I'd imagine on the strength of his 2001 release. Winner of this year's Maple award from the Toronto Blues Society, and originally from South Bend Indiana, he's a vituoso picker in a host of styles - appalachian, country blues, early jazz with a hint of R&B/soul and the energy couldn't be higher here - you don't get to share stages with Magic Slim and Hubert Sumlin easily. As Michael says "there's a lot of people playing acoustic blues, but not many combining it with banjo, fiddle and other forms of traditional southern US music." Now there's a truth, the early bluesers didn't specialise, blues was just one aspect of what they did. They were entertainers and anything that gets away from exclusiveness is a healthy thing. True Americana.
James Gordon is another cup of meat. From Ontario and perhaps best known as the founder of Tamarack, one of Canada's foremost groups in our genre he's been around a good while and is well-known as a writer of songs about the country's identity and heritage - you'll perhaps have seen his name on Cowboy Junkies album credits or heard James Keelaghan name-drop him? It's a mixed bag, some would call 'alt.country', others emotive pop but basically it's distinctive modern writing with a dark side. Songs of doomed relationships, dysfunctional men and women with issues, it's a changing world and a scary one that Gordon articulates accurately. 'Virginia's Day' is the stuff of daytime TV own-ups and 'March came in like a cockroach' from "A Really Lousy Late Winter Day" is a metaphor that hadn't occurred to me before!
Finally, the accomplished collection 'Six Strings' samples 15 Canadian acoustic guitarists, showcasing not just Borealis' own roster but casting the net wider to include such well-known names as Bruce Cockburn, Stephen Fearing and Bob Evans. Doing exactly what it says on the label, there are stellar performances from Gordie Sampson ('The Black Jigs') and Don Ross. ('3 Hands') In fact the playing is terrific throughout, engaging and glistening picking with nary a vocal in earshot. Here's a truly mesmerising stream of sound that doesn't stop once for breath. Enough there? Thought so.
All Borealis CDs are top-notch affairs, lavishly presented with comprehensive notes, premier-league artwork and packaging and if the general public thought it was hip to like music of this quality, we'd be turning 'em away from Folk Clubs in their droves! I asked my Company CEO who is a Canadian, at a recent meeting what he sang in the shower. He responded with a Celine Dion title! Ho hum.