Considering its smallish population, roughly one-tenth that of the US, thinly spread out over an area that dwarfs its southern neighbor, Canada has produced a remarkable number of world-class musicians, in just about any genre you might think of: Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Anne Murray, Bryan Adams, Avril Lavigne, the Guess Who, Rush, Robbie Robertson, Bruce Cockburn, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Michael Buble, Celine Dion, Bif Naked, Maynard Ferguson, Nelly Furtado, Glenn Gould, Jeff Healey, The Band (most of them, anyway), Justin Bieber, John Kay (Steppenwolf), Diana Krall, k. d. lang, Guy Lombardo, Sarah McLachlan, Oscar Peterson, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Hank Snow, George Canyon, David Clayton-Thomas (Blood, Sweat and Tears), Ian Tyson, Gino Vanelli, Rufus Wainwright, and more.
And nowhere is the love of all things musical more evident than in the Maritime provinces, where pockets of pickers pepper (ah, alliteration…) the landscapes of Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Often the gathering places are remote villages, rather than the urban centers of Halifax, Moncton, or St. John’s. It would be a rare summer’s evening indeed when there was no live music close by, no matter how far-flung your home stomping grounds.
One of the finest of these gatherings is the annual July event known as Stanfest. Named after iconic Canadian folksinger Stan Rogers, who died in an airplane fire in 1983, Stanfest gathers the best and the brightest musicians from Canada and abroad for a three-day songfest dedicated to the craft of songwriting and the diversity of musical styles (and let’s not forget the beer-infused partying). All of this takes place in tiny Canso, Nova Scotia, about as far east as you can get in mainland Canada.
The Canadian contingent this year was particularly fine, including a number of artists with whom I was not previously familiar, but whose songs were by turns provocative, insightful, clever, and well crafted.
A few particular favorites:
Royal Wood: Ontario singer/songwriter, plays piano and guitar; handsome in a forties’ matinee idol sort of way, like Jimmy Stewart back in the day; beautifully rendered pop love songs, in the manner of Billy Joel or Randy Newman; here is a Youtube link to check him out, and if you like what you hear, there are dozens more: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cnAmDZ4wBZc&feature=related
David Myles: New Brunswick singer/songwriter, rhythm guitarist of a trio comprised of two guitars and a stand-up bass; in concert, he jokes about his ragamuffin past, at odds with his current sartorial elegance when performing (white suit, tie, hat straight out of a film noir detective flick); the Youtube video referenced below is the title song of his latest CD, “Turn Time Off” (this particular version is an off-the-cuff live video shot outdoors, not a great recording, but sweet nonetheless); once again, if this appeals to you, there are numerous others available to check out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXTFRyiUkEw ; here’s another tune, “A New Friend”, once again a live performance, with a bit better production values: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WBA5NuMV6Y
The Stanfields: these guys are the Maritimes’ (a bit of errata: I originally said they were from Newfoundland, and was corrected by a sharp-eyed reader; they actually hail from Nova Scotia) latest offering from the growing Celtic/punk movement; with garage-band enthusiasm (and volume) and cleverly crafted songs (one particular favorite is “The Dirtiest Drunk in the History of Liquor”), the Stanfields rattle the rafters with every performance. This tune is called “Ship to Shore”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4-zYLfmSpo
Paper Lions: perhaps the most dynamic new band in Canada at the moment, this Charlottetown, PEI-based group combines Beatles-influenced licks with tight harmonies and cutting-edge instrumentation; these guys are such genre benders, it is next to impossible to pigeonhole their style; suffice it to say that their rock/folk/blues/alternative/jazz/fusion should attract a wildly diverse fan base. Here is one particularly Beatle-esque tune, “Travelling” (once again, there are lots of others, including a slew of videos under their previous moniker, The Chucky Danger Band): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S02bqXuntE0
And finally, my personal favorite, Alex Cuba: born Alexis Puentes in Artemisa, Cuba, he emigrated from his native land to British Columbia in 1999; he came up through the ranks as a bass player, and that influence shows strongly in his finger-style guitar playing; his lyrics, all in Spanish (of which I understand but a smattering), are heartfelt, and his jazz/salsa/rock/funk style channels Laurindo Almeida and Jimi Hendrix in equal proportions. Cuba co-wrote a fair bit of Nelly Furtado’s fourth studio album, including its title track, Mi Plan. Don’t miss this guy; he will blow you away! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4doPh0Tr8s ; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5387jy8OL4 ; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqoTvcBcgYA&feature=fvsr
PS, pictures coming soon!