The Sackville scene's Kenny James releases Tougher Than Nails

There are certainly lots of fine musicians working in New Brunswick, and you find them all over the province. There are some places that seem to have a lot more than you'd expect, given the size of the area.

One of them is Sackville. From the bands and artists that live there, to the festivals and galleries and events year-round, there's always something musical and interesting happening in the town.

The scene has developed thanks to the confluence of a lot of factors over the years. First, you have Mount Allison University, a Liberal Arts bastion that has brought both teachers and students interested in creative arts there for decades.

While classical music was always featured at the school, pop has come to the fore in the last twenty years, as that forms have become more respectable. Students have formed bands, such as In-Flight Safety, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia people that first met at the school.

There have been a lot of young artists moving to the community, drawn by the galleries, photography, theatre, who get into music and work on bigger projects together. The group that formed Sappy Fest, singer Julie Doiron the best-known of them, has put the town on the map in the national alternative community.

That festival is cool, but all year round you have musicians coming into town to hang out, play, record, and lots of them simply stay. You have musicians more likely to take a job in the area, because they know the music scene is there as well.

Let's not discount the natural beauty of the marsh area as well. Despite the crazy winds, it's just such a lovely spot people want to live there, and for lots of Upper Canadians, those housing prices are pretty attractive.

The community is very supportive, and it has the feel of an artist's colony, where you can find advice, a place to stay, and like-minded friends. The musicians are also very open to all styles of music, and there's a wide variety of sounds coming out of the area.

Kenny James has had the full Sackville experience. Initially a punk/alternative band guy from Toronto, he moved to town back in 2006, getting a good job in a town he knew was a hotbed for music.

He initially had an indie-rock group, but along the way, country started appealing to him. James has ended up as more of an alt-country performer, with lots of '60's twang and '70's outlaw and singer-songwriter sounds.

His first recording in this vein was an E.P. two years ago that set up the direction he was leaning. Catching the connection between punk and Johnny Cash and the outlaw movement, he wrote and recorded the songs by himself in his home studio.

Now, the new album Tougher Than Nails sees him working with a broader sound and a full band. As for the Sackville experience, it was recorded in the classic, decades-old Vogue Theatre, for its wonderful ambiance.

The album is dark, driven and pulled from real-life sadness at times. Elsewhere, James lightens things up with some classic country humour, such as Truck Stop, which comes complete with a jukebox, pie, liver and onions, and a sweet waitress.

There is plenty of edgy guitar on the collection, with strong peformances in the Blue Rodeo/Sadies school. It's often a great mix with the classic lyric style, such as on Pictures of Rose, where some are happy, some are blue, where we find out that Rose is the old dog, who is now gone, and so is the girlfriend.

Like Sackville, Tougher Than Nails has it all. Country, rock, pain, joy, heartbreak, happiness, lost love and a good dog.

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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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