Archives for posts with tag: Blue Rodeo

Review of “Hope” by The Strumbellas [Six Shooter Records, 2016]

As a middle-aged casual music listener I do not try to keep up with all the latest Canadian recordings. I recently added a few vintage Gordon Lightfoot and Guess Who records and I bought the latest releases from Blue Rodeo [1000 Arms] and the Great Lake Swimmers [A Forest of Arms]—What’s with the fixation on arms?—whom I discovered a few years ago. Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor’s blended voices still send shivers up my spine and “Still” is still one of my favorite songs of all time but unfortunately I did not consider either of these new releases to be worthy of a review. Both of the albums sound like these bands sound—and don’t get me wrong, I like the sound—but in my opinion neither of the albums breaks any new ground lyrically or musically. What is there to say that has not been said?

So instead, I review a band that was new to me with their 2016 release: Hope. The Strumbellas are a six piece folk ensemble with all six members providing some sweet vocal harmonies and a rich folk/pop sound. Although not musically adventurous, the writing and production provide some catchy tunes and clever musical hooks. The ironic mix is that while the vocals and instrumentation are pleasant, upbeat, and refreshing, the lyrics are sometimes brooding, dark, and reflective—yet not without hope as the title suggests. The theme of hope is an appropriate one to reflect on during this season of Lent as we long for the new life of Easter. My favorite songs are: “Spirits” [the opening song to the album and the radio single], “Wars”, “Young and Wild”, and “We Don’t Know”. The one song that makes me shake my head is “Dog” where they sing: “When this road gets too rough I’ll be your dog”. Perhaps it is because I am not a dog lover that the analogy just does not work for me as the most effective to describe loyal friendship.

The lyrics on the entire album are loaded with what I would call young adult angst: “we’re a long way from home…I’ll be a dreamer till the day I die…I don’t want a never ending life; I just want to be alive while I’m here…we don’t know the roads we are heading down; we don’t know if we’re lost, that we’ll find a way…from this moment forever I can hope…I must go and chase this dream of mine…this shaky heart is young… I don’t know what I am but I’m doing the best I can…I’m young and wild…” The song writer’s head is full of a lot of stuff: dreams, guns, spirits, ghosts, pain, darkness, soldiers—and hope. Yet, upon deeper reflection perhaps young adults only mirror and artistically articulate what is human longing; and, if that is the case they speak the angst and hope that is in all of us.

If this band were in town I would definitely go hear them and take one of my young adult kids. The music is enjoyable and the lyrics are thoughtful and reflective. With six members I can imagine they would put on an energetic and lively show.

#3 in the Canadiana series: Review of Neil Young’s autobiography, Waging Heavy Peace

I have followed a number of Canadian folk and rock musicians beginning with Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Young, the Guess Who, and BTO; however, my favorite singer-songwriter has always been Bruce Cockburn. I also enjoy the smooth, soaring harmonies of Blue Rodeo and their fusion of country, folk, rock, and jazz. The Great Lake Swimmers, and most recently Reuben and the Dark [stay tuned for an upcoming review] are presently on my playlist. I have not yet opened Bruce Cockburn’s spiritual autobiography, but I happened to spot Neil Young’s Waging Heavy Peace for a dollar while browsing at the Winkler MCC Store this summer.

The weakness of the book is that it is written very crudely and simplistically; and with just under 500 pages, it includes a lot of trivial details that I could have done without. The other side of this is that I feel like I really got to know the man. I found out his true loves: music-making friends [too many to mention], his three kids [two boys with disabilities], his latest wife Pegi [his third long-term partner], cars [he owns multiple Lincolns and Cadillacs, most notably “Lincvolt” his custom made electric car which he drove to Fort McMurray to protest the oil sands a few years ago], and guitars [he is obsessed with perfecting tone].

Neil Young grew up in northern Ontario, moved with his mother to Winnipeg when his parents separated, then drifted to Toronto as a young adult musician but soon crossing the border to spend the rest of his life in the USA, eventually settling down on a ranch in California with a second home in Hawaii. In many ways he has lived the life of a typical American rock star, unlike the above named artists who all continue to live in Canada, but he does hold a nostalgic view of his Canadian roots.

“Old memories are wonderful things and should be held on to as long as possible, shared with others, and embellished if need be. Whenever I go back to Canada, my heart is flooded with them—memories, that is. I look forward to seeing my brother, Bob, and Dave Toms up there in Peterborough when I go back for the premiere of Jonathan Demme’s new documentary. It will be a great time. (Canadians say great a lot, in case you haven’t noticed. I know. I have looked up many other words I could have used in the thesaurus, but that is not my style. I prefer to be boring and use the same words over and over, because that is more true to who I really am. That may not work for you if you pride yourself on your great vocabulary.)”

Although there are too many pages filled with trivial details about his obsessions with cars, relationships, and musical adventures, he does offer interesting background to some of his songs [his favorite albums are mine as well: Harvest and Comes a Time]. And although I would not call him a particularly reflective or spiritual person, he does have some insightful commentary on life.

The title reflects his “hippie dream” of peace in relationships and in the world. One of his most well-known songs, “Heart of Gold” describes this search for meaning and inner peace. Although he mentions the album “Prairie Wind” as going back to his roots in Canada, he unfortunately does not comment on “When God Made Me” which is a tender Gospel song in the spirit of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” He wrote “Ohio” as a response to the Kent State shootings in the 1960’s and more recently his “Living With War” is an in your face protest of American militarism during the Gulf War.

The book ends the same way it begins and reads throughout: with a trivial detail about an ordinary day, but I like the following statement better as a conclusion. This statement is his explanation of “It is better to burn out than to fade away” which is perhaps one of the most oft-quoted of his song lyrics. “At sixty-five, it seems that I may not be at the peak of my rock and roll powers. But that is not for sure. The idea that I should have died earlier is not the point. There really is more to life than its charged peak, because other things continue to grow and develop long afterward, enriching and growing the spirit and soul.”