Wed, Jul 3, 2013.
Toronto's Skydiggers are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the band this year with a series of special projects. They're doing shows across the country, including one coming up in less than two weeks in this province, and releasing a series of albums, four in total, one each season. The first one came out for spring, a triple-disc set that including three live concerts from different phases of the group's career. The one that just came out Tuesday is called #1 Northern. This time the band has chosen to do interpretations of some of their favourite Canadian songs. It pays homage to some of the great Canadian songwriters who have left their mark on this country.
Some of the names are the obvious ones: Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, Ron Sexsmith. Every Maritimer will know Gene MacLellan and his iconic Snowbird. But another Maritimer stands out, and it's a guy from Moncton, born in Fredericton. Alex Madsen is the chief singer and songwriter of The Divorcees, those ECMA-winning outlaw country guys. Compared to the rest of the names on the list, Madsen is the relative newcomer.
The Divorcees and Skydiggers have some history together, as guitar player Josh Finlayson produced some demos for them a couple of years back. He was particularly taken with the song Precious Time, which ended up on the band's last album, Four Chapters. In fact, Finlayson liked it so much, he made sure his partner in Skydiggers heard it too. Andy Maize of the band takes up the story: "Josh has been playing that song to me for a couple of years. I loved the Buddy Holly feel of it. I'm a big Buddy Holly fan, and love the sentiment of it. There's just not enough time to spend with our loved ones and finding that time is the precious time. So the fact that it evoked Buddy Holly, and it's a great tune, it was a real pleasure, an easy decision and an easy choice for us."
Skydiggers have defined the great Canadian popular songwriting tradition as "one that eschews bells and whistles for melody and substance, craft and connection". They wanted to put together a collection of songs by writers they admire and have travelled many of the same roads that they have. When it comes to placing Alex Madsen alongside the other talents on that list, Maize has no problem with his selection. "I think he's a fine writer, and I think the song is evidence of that. It's well-constructed. When songs are good they seem effortless. The craft that goes into them is so good that you don't even notice it. And I think that Alex definitely falls into that category."
Now it just so happens the Skydiggers are going to be playing in the province right away. It's happening Saturday, July 13, at Officer's Square in Fredericton, something called The Brewer's Bash, a big beer-tasting event, capped off by shows by Skydiggers and Deep Dark Woods. Sold out, I'm afraid, already. Too bad, too, because there's a special guest coming for that show. It's none other than Peter Cash, their long-time friend, and former member of the band for a decade back in the 80's and 90's. He's gone on to do things solo and with The Cash Brothers, but has always stayed close, and is here for this special anniversary show.
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Bob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).