D.A. Richards' novels inspiration for new album by Dan MacCormack

When we talk about the kind of music we like, usually we refer to the genre. I'm a rock fan, or country, or classical, or Swedish hardcore shoegaze polka. Whatever we like, it's defined by the notes, and the way they are made. There are a few of us though, me included, who like almost everything, a little from this, more from that, and have an example or 20 of virtually any and everything in their collection. I used to call myself a pop music fan, but then I realized that didn't explain the Appalachian folk music or Stompin' Tom or many others.

albumtest3.jpgThere is another side to music that often defines what I listen to, and how much I like it. It doesn't get talked about as much, which is strange, because it's the other fifty per cent, the wordy part. I'm a lyrics person. I love listening to lyrics. It's not the only thing of course, but nothing strikes me as much in a song as a good lyric, one that makes me think or completely describes a feeling I've had. Let's take Bob Dylan for instance. Sometimes, he puts it all together, music and lyrics, but other times its just a basic blues song he's doing. It's the words that make it stand out. I compare it to my feelings about films. It can have all the action in the world, and great visuals, wonderful acting even, but if the plot and the dialogue stinks, I'm disappointed.

Cape Breton-raised, Halifax-based musician Dan MacCormack has a thing for words too. He's especially keen on one writer, a New Brunswick one, our literary treasure David Adams Richards. MacCormack is a multi-instrumentalist, adept at pedal steel, guitar, banjo, mandolin, and fiddle, and can play them in a variety of styles, with the group Grassmarket and on film and TV scores. For his debut album, he was inspired by Richards' novels. What he admired was Richards way of finding beauty, peace and meaning in the lives of ordinary and often poor people. He wanted to capture that in his songs, so he developed a style of writing and re-working Richards' themes and words into new tracks.

MacCormack took ten different Richards books and created a song around each, for the album Symphony Of Ghosts. Sometimes the words would come directly from the text, or a little bit of the plot. The song Evening Snow is one, repeating directly that beautiful title of Richards' novel Evening Snow Brings Such Peace. Good Friday takes us into the familiar logging camps of the New Brunswick woods. Like all Richards' books, the songs are set in rural locales, the fictional world Richards has created around his Miramichi home. Richards, by the way, is pleased as punch with the album, and has given it a hearty and full approval.

Anyone familiar with Richards' novels knows that they have many dark moments. The trick is finding the joy that comes from living through the bleak times. MacCormack has certainly found that joy in the music he's created. I'd call it symphonic folk, with its many bright instruments weaving through the tunes that sometimes have the uptempo light-heartedness of bluegrass, others that have rich textures of horns or piano. Produced by like-minded orchestral pop fan Jason MacIsaac of The Heavy Blinkers, it's a rich listen in every way, whether you are a music person, or a lyrics one. But why bother choosing? Both work here very well.

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About Bob Mersereau

Rockin' BobBob 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).

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