Songs from 'The River' (2019 Release)

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For many, rivers are a perpetual life force. They have shaped the landscape over the millennia, they sustain a wealth of biodiversity, and they have greatly influenced our cultural heritage. They provide a means of travel, a source of prosperity, a renewal of spirit and they call to me as a metaphor for the trials of life. The River is a compilation of songs about life experiences and stories of life and times in the Ottawa Valley. The debut album was released on 22 February 2019.

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New Songs in Development

I love conveying, through music, unique stories about people or places or things.  In some cases, documenting these stories through song preserves what would otherwise be a lost or forgotten record.  Here are some of the songs that are in development. 

Title to come - the story of hope of immigrants from Ireland that settled in the Ottawa Valley in the mid-1800s. These folks came to Canada to escape poverty, starvation (potato famine) and oppression. As arduous as it would have been to turn the forested, stony hills of the Opeongo Range into farmland, it was far easier to survive (and thrive) with this settlement challenge than to remain in Ireland.  To this day, there are many reminders throughout the Ottawa Valley of the influx of the Irish at this time, from the names of settlements to celebrations of Irish heritage.  This song was inspired by exploring a mysterious ghost settlement in Ontario called Newfoundout

North Star - the story of a German pilot from WWII who escaped from a POW (prisoner of war) camp in the remote interior of Algonquin Park (Nipissing River). What is remarkable about this individual is he traveled north from the POW camp using only the north star to guide him. He traveled only at night and hid during the daylight hours. After 3 days (nights) he reached the CPR (Canadian Pacific Railway) line, where he hopped on a slow-moving train.  His train ride took him westward to Winnipeg Manitoba, where he was recaptured and put in another POW camp. His night travels in a rugged wilderness region were terrifying. This journey happened in May (late spring), when lakes and streams would have been icy-cold, and biting insects would have been emerging, if not constantly feeding on the prisoner. The song will be about the north star journey and, most importantly, the feeling of hope when he first heard the distant rumble of the train.  

Title to come - the story of an old abandoned "depot farm" called Halfway House that supported the bustling logging industry in the late 1800s and the early 1900s. Xavier Pilon was the name of the farmer who cleared the land in a remote wilderness area half way between two major hubs in the travels of seasonal workers.  Thousands of men would migrate into the bush to cut giant white pines, staying at lumber camps located throughout the vast forests. The depot farm provided food to lumber camps as well as lodging for the men who traveled by horse-drawn sleigh to the lumber camps. Ruins of old buildings are all that remain today, and there are few records of the Pilon farm.  I have yet to meet with descendants of Xavier Pilon to collect more details of the man and the farm.  This song was inspired by visiting the farm, and enjoying the taste of the rhubarb picked from a patch still growing at the farm. 

Live Versions of Songs from "The River" - CEC Show

"Live at the CEC" refers to a house concert-type show that I put on at a community hall called the Christian Education Centre. The CEC is a gathering place for different types of events, with the Deep River Community Church located next door on the property.  In these live recordings, you'll hear introductory remarks about things like the inspiration for the songs or the background of the stories put to song. Understanding these aspects make the music more interesting and enjoyable to most people.  There'll be the odd rough bit to the songs, typical of live performance, but the spirit of the gathering and the essence of the songs are captured nicely in the recordings. Enjoy! And feel free to leave comment if any of the songs move you somehow. 

Links

Visit my other sites for more songs, videos and information on my folk music act.

Cover Songs

Below is a collection of cover songs that are among my favorites to perform, whether in a pub or a reception or restaurant.  To perform well, you must "own" the song, and to get that ownership, there has to be a special connection of some kind.  Crocodile Rock is a great example of how a song can be adapted to acoustic guitar and a folksy twang. Adapting music to develop a unique sound or feel is one of the magical aspects of music that I respect so much now. I regret that decades earlier, I judged performers by how closely the cover songs sounded like their original recordings. Now it all about making the song soulful or cool in some unique way. I hope Elton John would approve of my version or his song. Cinnamon Girl is simply an extremely pleasing song to perform, employing "drop-D tuning". The deep tones from this tuning elevates the Neil Young song so nicely.  I've heard many different versions of Folsom Prison Blues from different bands covering this classic Johnny Cash song. My favorite version is where there's a strong percussive beat, akin to the sound of a steam locomotive. The TV series soundtrack song Gilligan's Island came into my life decades ago when I heard a punk rock band playing this song at a house party.  I am still inspired. Many people enjoyed that querky comedy from the 1970s, including myself, and so it is a very engaging song to perform, often with people singing along.  My variation includes an off-beat rythm, unique bridges and a resonating outro at the end.  This song is ALWAYS played no matter what the gig is.  Superman's Song is simply a pleasing song to play. I love the way that The Crash Test Dummies put this songs together and it's refreshing to sing about a light-hearted topic like the live and times of a fictitious super-hero.  The song What's Going On is inspiring to me because the frustrations from living or working within a confusing and nonsensical reality are reflected so well in the lyrics. It's a stress release to belt this song out, and a crowd-pleaser with people singing along with the chorus. I can't thank the group 4 Non Blondes enough for writing this great song. David Francey's beautiful song Over You is one of my favorites because I absolutely admire his songwriting and the guitar styling. My finger picking is only an approximation, but the essence of the breakup song is there to enjoy.  My love of the music by David Francey has influenced my songwriting. The same is true of John Prine; I  love his songwriting, and this appreciation has had an influence on me. His song Illegal Smile is a favorite of mine, and it always amazes me how there's always someone in the audience that perks up and sings along. As of 17 October 2018, I joke that in Canada this song should be renamed LEGAL Smile. Rita McNeil's song Working Man is special to me because I spent a bit of time years ago working underground in a mine. It was a gold mine in Northern Manitoba, rather than a coal mine on Cape Breton Island, but her lyrics are true to the unique and dangerous aspects of mining. This song is haunting to me... in a great way.  I'm a big fan of Sean McCann, also a member of the East Coast band Great Big Sea. His song Good People very much fits the wonderful situation at Haleys Bay Music Hall where friends gather at this private venue at the end of the road. His lyrics are so incredibly pertinent; I wish that I could claim credit for that song. Lastly, Coldplay's song Kingdom Come became very special to me because of a beautiful incident that happened at a restaurant gig. Towards closing time, a couple (the only remaining couple, both military folks) requested the song. They got up from their table and started dancing slowly, then crying quietly. Afterwards they explained that this was their wedding song, and the two were out on a special evening because one had just returned from service and the other was about to leave. I felt soooo privileged to add to their special evening. Any performer would dream of being in this position; of enriching the lives of others. This is why I perform and write music.