Stan Carew, the host of CBC’s Weekend Morning, has compiled a list of his 10 favourite Maritime albums of 2013.
Here they are, in his own words, in no particular order:
10. Coalition, Kim Wempe
Kim Wempe, from Humboldt, Sask. moved to Nova Scotia six years ago and quickly made a name for herself in the province’s thriving music industry.
The first recording she made here, 2009’s Where I Need To Be, won both a Nova Scotia Music Award and an ECMA, and got her noticed.
The follow up, Painting With Tides, was produced by one of the region’s best, Charles Austin, and featured appearances by Joel Plaskett, Old Man Luedecke and Thom Swift, and added to her growing fan base.
In September of 2013, she released Coalition, a collection of great songs infused with soul and gospel, which showcases her smoky, compelling vocals.
From the a cappella opening, she demands your attention. Highlights for me are Go Back, Love Likes Simple, River, When I Stop and Restless. Terrific production by Newfoundland’s Chris Kirby.
9. For King and Country, The Stanfields
The Stanfields’s For King and Country saw one of the regions most popular, hard-rocking bands turning down the amplifiers in favour of acoustic guitars and mandolin, but continuing the hard-driving, energetic style of music that earned them the Entertainer of the Year award at November’s Nova Scotia Music Week.
They record for Groundswell Records, the local record label Rawlin’s Cross front man Ian MacKinnon started two decades ago and which continues to thrive.
The Stanfields consider themselves a working class band and play music that’s rooted in Maritime culture. For me, the highlight of the album is A Free Country, a song that unashamedly celebrates the virtues of democracy, with all of its flaws. Its theme of people getting along despite their differences, is universal.
A Whistle and a Gun, Son of a Landless Man, For Empire and Flag, and the bittersweet Vermilion River are my favourite tracks.
8. Snowbird: The Songs of Gene MacLellan, Catherine MacLellan
Generously sharing the singing with others on Snowbird: The Songs of Gene MacLellan,
P.E.I.’s Catherine MacLellan did a fantastic job of
honouring her father’s music. Fellow Islanders Lennie Gallant, Dennis Ellsworth and John Connolly all share lead vocal duties. Lennie’s versions of The Call and Shiloh Song show how good a singer he is, but the entire recording reveals just how good a songwriter Gene Maclellan was.
The Sunday morning church feeling of Put Your Hand In the Hand, Thorn In My Shoe, Face In The Mirror, If It’s Alright With You, and Won’t Talk About Love reveal the depth of Gene’s talent, while Catherine’s melancholic vocal on the classic title track is sublime.
7. This Great Compromise, Ashley Condon
2013 was great year for the women songwriters of Prince Edward Island.
Ashley Condon’s This Great Compromise, produced by folk veteran David Francey, reflected her Island upbringing in songs like Sea and Land, I’m Going Home Again, and Going To the Country. Francey also got involved in the writing process, and All My Life, the opening track, is a song I don’t get tired of hearing.
6. Christine Campbell, self titled
Christine Campbell is another Islander to watch. Her self-titled release is a self-assured departure from her rock roots.
The talented guitarist was a fearless rocker with the bands Molotov Cocktail and Stone Mary. The latter won the Best Loud Band award at Nova Scotia Music Week in 2011.
Trips to Nashville for writing sessions with experienced songwriters helped her hone the songs How Long, Too Late, and Severed Strings, and the beautiful ballad Run showcases her classical piano training. Definitely someone to watch.
5. Song Road, Teresa Doyle
I’ve always admired Teresa Doyle. I first met her more than 20 years ago. She’s made almost a dozen albums, and has managed to make a living as a professional musician — a difficult task.
She’s performed all over the word and made several recordings with the late violinist and producer Oliver Schroer. Teresa released Song Road in in 2013. It’s a varied recording, reflecting her interests in Celtic music as well as folk and jazz.
She sings in Gaelic and English and wrote half the songs on the album, the others being traditional. There’s Island history in Maggie Lachlan’s Last Storm, a song about an old friend in Gone Down River, a ballad called Un Destino Nuevo that’s sung in English and sounds like it could be a translation of a Pablo Neruda poem, as well as some exotic vocalization on other songs.
A great CD for late night or Sunday morning.
4. Eye to Eye, Andy Flynn and Ariana Nasr
Andy Flynn and his life and musical partner Ariana Nasr live in Wolfville and put out a CD called Eye To Eye, which is quirky, exotic and enjoyable.
Ariana has a lovely voice, and the two of them write songs about the life they live in the Annapolis Valley. The small joys of Early Morning Gaspereau, Rising With the Moon, Dancing The Answer and the title track feature arrangements that are rhythmic and percussive with flutes and violins adding a worldly texture.
3. Testifyin', Joe Murphy and the Water Street Blues Band
Joe Murphy and the Water Street Blues Band have been mainstays on the Maritime music scene for more than thirty years.
Joe is a neighbour of mine. We went to grade and high school together and were altar boys at St. Theresa’s church in Halifax 50 years ago.
Joe lives and breathes the blues. He’s a respected blues harmonica player and a demanding band leader. He knows what he wants and on Testifyin’ he gets it from his well seasoned band.
Little Walter, Willie Dixon, and Muddy Waters songs are featured here. It’s straight up, get down blues. How can you not like songs with titles like Fattening Frogs For Snakes, Wouldn’t Treat A Dog, Heartomatic Love and Crazy Mixed Up World?
2. Wrestling With Demons, Ryan Cook
Ryan Cook used to a punk rocker. Then, like St. Paul on the road to Damascus, he saw the light. Hank Williams light. Ernest Tubb’s light. Hank Snow’s light.
He converted to country music. Not the modern country, pseudo rock and roll that dominates country radio today, but the real thing.
He’s unapologetic about his fondness for traditional country, and he sings it really well. He put out two albums with his band Sunny Acres, and was a hit on stage as Hank Williams. His latest recording, Wrestling With Demons, finds him still walking his own road. The opening song, Will You Take Me Back To Tulsa, came from his experiences in Nashville, where people seem to have have forgotten Merle Haggard “and the king, Bob Wills.”
Honky Tonk Music and Tatooed Women is a song about falling off the wagon — a traditional country music theme. Songs like Lulu Lemon, Facebook Waltz and Single In A Bar show his awareness of the world, but full of twang and steel guitar.
He had two surviving members of Hank Snow’s Rainbow Ranch boys play on the record, and he does a bang up job on Hank’s hit I Don’t Hurt Anymore, a duet with Jennah Barry. Anyone who likes real country music will like this CD.
1. She's Gonna Fly, Meaghan Blanchard
My favourite album of the year is by another P.E.I. gal.
Meaghan Blanchard has been singing since she was a child. Her grandparents were performing musicians and the apple didn’t fall far from the tree in Meghan’s case.
I played a show with her on the Island about five years ago, and was impressed by her personable stage presence and great voice.
A chance meeting at a North American Folk Alliance conference led to She’s Gonna Fly, which was released in late summer. She went to Georgia to record it with John Keane who’s worked with R.E.M., Billy Bragg and the Indigo Girls.
He put together a band of top notch musicians and let Meaghan’s voice do the rest. From the country radio friendly opening track When You Used To Call My Name to the whimsical Seven Nut Pie that closes it, the album is one I still play in the car frequently five months later.
The title track She’s Gonna Fly, Watching Dandelion Grow, When I’m Gone, Crying in Harmony, and Jenna’s Song — which will likely become a Christmas staple — all show Meaghan’s ability as a songwriter.