To quote Stompin' Tom Connors, it's Canada Day up Canada way, and in honour of our great Canadian celebration- marked traditionally by hailstorms, watching the NHL Free Agent Frenzy on TSN, and mega-sleep-ins to recover from a school year (6 PM last evening until 7:45 this morning, a personal best perhaps)- I thought I would offer up 10 Bluegrass Songs for Canada Day.
What follows is not a list of the 10 greatest Canadian bluegrass songs, or my favourites even- just 10 songs to consider pulling off the shelf or downloading (legally, dagnabit) this DFKADD (Day formerly known as Dominion Day). And yes, I realize there are only a few hours left in Canada Day 2011: we've got a Royal visit a-goin' on and that takes precedence over blogging! Besides, I just thought of doing this.
Jaybird Ramble John Reischman & the Jaybirds- I liked this little mandolin and banjo tune so much, I made it the theme song for "That High Lonesome Sound," a radio show I hosted for 18 months a few years back. 'Jaunty' about sums it up. The Jaybirds remain one of Canada's premier bluegrass outfits with five albums to their credit and a fairly busy touring schedule. Why the eastern United States market hasn't warmed to this quintet remains a mystery: their playing, vocals, production, songwriting, song selection, and live presentation are all without fault. Originally released on "John Reischman & the Jaybirds" 2001
Rambling Letters The Spinney Brothers- Much has been written about this brother duo out of Nova Scotia (see [http://tinyurl.com/3ramv4g] for some of their news and achievements) and they've had a little success south of the border. I'm a sucker for this standard; my favourite rendition was done by the West Coast band Slowdrag a decade ago. To my ears, The Spinney Brothers version doesn't deviate a lot from that of The Stanleys and that is okay by me. Originally released on "Side By Side" 2010.
I Shot Your Dog Fred Eaglesmith & the Flathead Noodlers- I've never been fortunate enough to hear Fred play bluegrass live, but when he did- and had Willie P. Bennett in the fold- I bet it was something. A couple summers back I asked Fred if he would consider doing another album of bluegrass and he allowed that he would like to do so some time but needed the songs and players. "Balin" was the tunesmith's initial volley into the bluegrass world (remember, he previously wrote Thirty Years of Farming, a song James King took to #1 on the BU chart) and it pretty much went unnoticed by those who worry about airplay, charts, and bookings, but it is one heck of a disc. James Reams & the Barnstormers picked up Bailing Again for their recent "One Foot In the Honky Tonk" album and Dixie Mountain would sound just fine if recorded by a band like Cedar Hill. When I briefly hosted a bluegrass radio show, I played almost every track off this one, including this rural lament. Originally on "Balin" 2003.
An Old Fashioned Cottage The Backwoodsmen- This may not be the most refined song on the latest instalment of the "North to Ontario" series, but it is one of the most enjoyable. Lorne Buck has long been a fixture on the Ontario bluegrass scene and he wrote this song of memory and the ultimate cottage in the sky. The series has been more than enjoyable and stretches now to five volumes; it provides a comprehensive overview of the state of bluegrass in Central Canada. Originally released on "North to Ontario 2010" 2010.
32 Acres Jerusalem Ridge- Through the 90s and much of the early 2000s, Jerusalem Ridge was Alberta's only bluegrass group of substance, the band we all expected would 'make it big.' They never did break out of their regional market, for a variety of reasons. This Randall Hylton song was one of the first I heard the band perform live and I immediately connected to the material, the performance, and ultimately the genre: because of Jerusalem Ridge, I was drawn deeper into bluegrass. So my wife has a lot to blame on them. Originally on one of their early albums, but I don't know which; it is also on the compilation "Looking Back" 1993.
Lonesome, Heartbroke & Blue Four Chords of Wood- Besides having a wonderful name for a bluegrass band, Phil Shaver and his band write and perform terrific bluegrass songs. This original was another favourite on "That High Lonesome Sound" with just the right balance of mournful lamenting and self-imposed confusion and recrimination; the guy just can't figure out what the problem could have been. Originally from "Temptation" 2005
Lonesome Road Dottie Cormier- Supported by some of The Foggy Hogtown Boys, former member of Heartbreak Hill Dottie Cormier holds nothing back on this tune of lost love. The entire album is very enjoyable but apparently hard to come by these days. Cormier has the hills in her voice and it doesn't seem an affectation. Originally from "Oh Happy Day" 2001.
Love of the Mountains Dixie Flyers- One of Canada's venerable bluegrass outfits, I'm sure The Dixie Flyers have gone through as many line-up changes as they have touring buses. Ripped from a cassette, this performance remains a personal favourite. Originally on "New Horizons" 1984.
Cassie Green The Dick Smith-Mike O'Reilly Band- I used to be able to rattle off a list of artists who have recorded songs written by Ontario's Mike O'Reilly, but now all I can come up with are Del McCoury, Charlie Waller, and Rhonda Vincent. Still, not a bad group to have covering your songs. This particular song isn't terribly original in subject matter or execution, but there is something about the 'love from afar' tale that- of course- ends in tragedy that makes it appealing. Originally on "Life's Road" 2005.
Love, Lust, and Loneliness The D. Rangers- Sums up bluegrass music in under three minutes. Winnipeg's contribution to the bluegrass-Americana fold. Originally on "The Paw-Paw Patch" 2006.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee Bluegrass. Happy Canada Day! Donald