Tue, Sep 10, 2013.
Well, another question solved. I always wondered what The Guess Who was singing about on their cut So Long, Bannatyne from the 1971 album of the same name. Turns out it's an avenue in Winnipeg, and it also turns out it was named after Amanda Rheaume's great-great-grandfather, one of the founders of Manitoba, a pal of Louis Riel's, and the subject of her own AGB Bannatyne. It's one of several family history songs on the Ottawa roots performer's new album, Keep A Fire. If you dig deep enough, you can usually find a pretty interesting character among your ancestors, and Rheaume didn't have to go far for inspiration on either side of her parental past.
Bannatyne was quite the rebel, already the subject of lots of biographical material, and Rheume found enough family stories to fill much of the album. She interviewed her kin to find out more, and to be able to put their stories in perspective with her own life. The song Ancient Rime was the initial inspiration, which came to her after flying over the Northwest Passage to go play for troops in the far north. She knew that her own grandfather had been a navigator on HMCS Labrador, the first vessel to circumnavigate North America in one voyage. She actually knew him, had memories and love to share, and you can feel the sincerity in the project when she sings "I flew the Northwest Passage a lifetime after you."
Who knows, maybe everybody could find such touching stories if they went back a few generations, but Rheume seems to have a remarkable amount. Keep A Fire In The Rain tells about her Metis heritage and Ojibway great grandmother, shunned because of her mixed race relationship. Not This Time is about a terrifying journey of her father's side of the family a couple of generations back, mother and children being towed on a barge across Great Slave Lake, set adrift when a storm hits. Wrapping up the project in a tribute song, You Walk Beside Me, Rheaume sings about the pride she feels when thinking about one great grandmother, but you can tell that goes for all the relatives she writes about here.
Rheaume's bringing her whole family, or at least their stories, to New Brunswick over the next couple of weeks. Wednesday, Sept. 11, she's at the Red Herring in St. Andrews. Then it's Woodstock on Thursday the 12th, at Colin's Log Cabin Diner. Friday night, she's off to Moncton and Plan B. After some Nova Scotia dates, Rheaume drops back in on her way back to Ontario, playing the Creekview Restaurant in Gagetown on Thursday, Sept. 19.
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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).