RIP Gord Downie

We have a lost an important Canadian voice today.  In tribute, this is a repost of something a wrote a year ago for Anne Theriault's compilation of essays on the man himself, Gord Downie, and the songs that have inspired us.  You can read all the essays here:  For Gord: 27 Short Essays About The Tragically Hip, Plus One Poem 
I've posted my essay on the song 38 Years Old in full below, followed by a cover of Gord's tune "Trick Rider"

I don't remember a time when the Tragically Hip weren't in my life. Their first LP (1989's Up To Here) was released at the beginning of my early musical exploration. When I was asked to sing in my first high school band, we learned 5 or 6 tunes, including "New Orleans Is Sinking" and "Blow At High Dough". They were the soundtrack to bush parties, high school basketball games, long car drives, proms, they were everywhere.

And I hated them.

Let's talk about a song, though. Actually let's talk about songwriting. Even in the days when I hated the Hip the most, I always had this nagging inner voice telling me that I might be making a horrible mistake in harbouring such a negative (and unpopular) opinion about the band. Eventually that voice became too loud to ignore, and at that point I began to pay attention to what these tunes were actually about:

Canadian cities.

Canadian people.

Canadian history.

They were telling their Canadian audience that there was no shame in telling Canadian stories, and they're right. There isn't.

Jeez, Gord. I'm sorry I didn't see this earlier.

In 1989, when Kim Mitchell was vapidly lamenting his "Rock And Roll Duty", and long-forgotten chanteuse Candi was reminding us that "Love Makes No Promises", The Tragically Hip were singing about The Millhaven prison break ("38 Years Old"). That particular story is just as interesting as anything from San Quentin or Folsom, but what made Downie's telling of it extraordinary was the choice he made in focusing on the emotional and the familiar instead of the sensational. And, with all due respect to Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard, that's what holds this song above your average prison song. Downie creates an empathy for the song's protagonist, Mike, that I've never felt for Cash's chain gang murderer. But at the same time, Downie manages to avoid the weepy sentimentality of a "Moma Tried"; When Mike's mother cries that "the horror has finally ceased," the scene is played in such a matter-of-fact way that it feels real. It feels like it could be my family.

"38 Years Old" is just one example of Gord's genius for combining Canadiana with brilliant storytelling. Since that first LP, The Tragically Hip have told the stories of Bobcaygeon, The Isle Aux Morts, Sault Sainte Marie, Niagara Falls, Toronto, a lake in Quebec, Algonquin Park, The Prairies, the 100th Meridian, a cemetery in Kingston, hockey, bears, CBC, Canada — just to name a few. Put it this way: if it's a Canadian event, place or feeling, the Hip have probably sung about it. And all of this has paved the way for other Canadian singer-songwriters to explore their own relationship with this country and its history.

Jeez, Gord. I'm sorry I didn't see these things earlier.

First single: Autumn In New Brunswick

The beautiful first single from Shawn William Clarke’s upcoming album TOPAZ is a homage to finding windows of solace amidst the chaos of life.

Departing from the more acoustically-driven tendencies of his past release, William, the transition comes with ease. Shawn William Clarke has curated his textures to follow his lyrics. Effortlessly bringing on a more electric and 70’s AM Radio Gold feel to his newest single, “Autumn in New Brunswick”.

Shawn’s signature hypnotic and autobiographical lyrics present the resting and calming points of the hectic nature of touring. Feeling much like a road diary, “Autumn in New Brunswick” is an emotional postcard to a friend. The song is serene and pastoral, matching up as a perfect companion to the subject. Clarke shares a glimpse into his life on the road with Olenka and Autumn Lovers, and fittingly adding the vocal prowess of Olenka herself on harmonies. Sink into your seat, close your eyes and let the words paint the picture for you.

Folk Roots Radio Interview

Back in October I found myself at the Folk Music Ontario conference in Ottawa.  While there I had a chance to chat with Jan Hall, who has featured me on her program in the past.  She's a really wonderful interviewer, and great human being.  It was fun to talk with her, and I played 2 new songs that'll appear on my upcoming album!  Please check it below, the interview starts around the 18 minute mark.

It's really interesting to listen to those songs, they've gone through some changes since October!  I can't wait to play them for you soon! 


SWC

My Fav Albums of 2016

Well, 2016 is at it's end.  Thankfully.  This was a strange year for me, and while I did have a few accomplishments, I'm happy to move on.  2017 looks bright, including the most exciting news, I'll be recording a new album!  The follow up to 2014's "William" will commence recording in April.  I'll post more details as they come. 
In the mean time, here are a few of the albums that really spoke to me this year.  I've put a track from each one (and a few more for good measure) on a handy Spotify link at the bottom of the post!

The First 10

  1. Andy Shauf - The Party
  2. David Bowie - Blackstar
  3. Beyonce - Lemonade
  4. Leonard Cohen - You Want it Darker
  5. Dyan - Looking for Knives
  6. F.S. Blumm & Nils Frahm - Tag Eins Tag Zwei
  7. LUKA - Summon Up a Monkey King
  8. Sturgill Simpson - A Sailors Guide to Earth
  9. Little Kid - Flowers
  10. A Tribe Called Red - We are the Halluci Nation

The Next 10

  1. Solange - A Seat at the Table
  2. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
  3. Mathewdavid Mindflight - Trust the Guide and Glide
  4. Kendrick Lamar - Untitled Unmastered
  5. Whitney - Light Upon the Lake
  6. A Tribe Called Quest - We Got it from Here, Thank You for Your Service
  7. Tim Hecker - Love Streams
  8. Corin Raymond - Hobo Jungle Fever
  9. Leanne Betasamosake Simpson - F(l)ight
  10. Noname - Telefone

New song: "So long L. Cohen"

Leonard Cohen has passed away.  I spend the first hour after hearing the news listening to his music.  Songs that have influenced me so much over the last few decades.  Then I picked up my guitar and this song flowed out.  One of the quickest songs I've ever written.  I hope you enjoy it, I have placed the lyrics under this video if you'd like to read along. Please let me know what you think in the comments

Softly a la Belle province
tremulous refrains
tomes underneath each arm
Lorca and King James

From last lament of Joan of Arc
to quiet servitude
From the wars against disorder
To suggest or allude

that it's not long Marianne, I shall see you soon

The highways are empty now
in New York and Berlin
yearning sound from synagogues
beckon from within

Suzy yells “it's closing time.
The wait staff are all vexed.
I wish you could sing one more song.
Of love, or faith or sex.

But it's not too long, Marianne. We shall see you soon”

I hope you passed near a forest
somewhere near your pen
I hope you passed in loving arms
with letters from your friends

I swore I heard them singing
all the way from Clinton Street
I know they'll lock the Chelsea now
Drop the keys at your feet

It's not long Marianne, I shall see you soon