Stompin’ Tom Connors – Stompin’ Tom Connors [2017] [Anthology]

What better time than Canada Day’s 150th birthday weekend to celebrate the proudly patriotic music of Stompin’ Tom Connors?

The iconic Canadian country artist, who passed away in 2013 at the age of 77, has a just-released collection — Stompin’ Tom Connors 50th Anniversary — to mark the five decades since he was first introduced that way (for stomping his heel while he sang, later on a piece of plywood he carried with him) at a July 1, 1957, performance at the King George Tavern in Peterborough, Ont.

The 18-track disc features all of his best known songs, including Sudbury Saturday Night, The Hockey Song and Bud the Spud, a forward by Hockey Hall of Famer Ken Dryden, plus four reworked versions of his tunes by The Cuddy/Polley Family Band (Don Valley Jail), George Canyon (The Hockey Song), Corb Lund (The Consumer), and Connors’ most recent backing band, Whiskey Jack (Algoma Central #69).

“I never performed with him live (but) had numerous interactions with Tom,” said Blue Rodeo frontman Jim Cuddy in an interview with The Toronto Sun.

“I think the first time might have been the SOCAN awards (in the late ’80s). He was very gracious. What was remarkable about it was we came up to his table he had a case of beer under his table. So he did pull out a bottle and cracked it open. We were pretty fascinated. We were pretty young and still intimidated by the industry and he certainly was not.”

Canyon, a Nova Scotia native who now lives near Calgary, never got the opportunity to play with Connors — who died in March, 2013 — or see him live. But Canyon agrees he was a captivating outsider. He later got to casually know Connors, who returned his ’70s-era Junos in 1978 to protest the Canadian music awards being given to ex-pats and declined to be inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 1993.

“Stompin’ Tom, he was revered, he was the icon,” said Canyon, who had a July 1 date headlining a music festival in Castlegar, B.C.

“And then playing his music, too, as a kid around the campfire. I’ve been playing The Hockey Song, for a long time. I’ve played literally almost every square inch of Canada and when we play a bit of The Hockey Song, which we do every show, the place goes nuts. And there hasn’t been one venue or one crowd that did not respond amicably and sing along. They might not even know who Stompin’ Tom was but, as an artist, to have that kind of effect on a nation, wow.”

In addition to the new collection, the new Stompin’ Tom Connors Centre in his hometown of Skinners Pond, P.E.I., had its grand opening on Canada Day, featuring a 120-seat performance space with the first annual Stompin’ Tom Fest, which runs July 1 to 2.

Cuddy said Connors was proof you could stay in Canada once “making it” after he and Blue Rodeo co-founder Greg Keelor returned to Toronto from The Big Apple in the early ’80s before forming their country-rock-pop group in 1984.

“It felt like a step backwards for us since we had been in New York,” said Cuddy. “But there were a couple of icons, they were Gordon Lightfoot and Stompin’ Tom, who were real mavericks, who lived in the city, stayed in Canada, regardless of their fame, especially with Gordon. So it was sort of inspiring to me that this was possible.”

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Jack Ingram – Midnight Motel

Jack Ingram left the country mainstream after 2009’s Big Dreams & High Hopes,
an album that failed to deliver on either despite two singles that
became hits. Despite “That’s a Man” and “Barefoot and Crazy” cresting
into the Country Top 20, the album sealed his fate in Nashville, so he
wound up wandering the Americana back roads before resurfacing in 2016
with Midnight Motel on Rounder. The very title of Midnight Motel suggests a bleary pit stop, a place where you stay when you’re waylaid from your planned path. That sensibility infuses Midnight Motel,
a record that lingers upon the unplanned moments, moving slowly through
a series of laments and fireside tales, including a spoken salute to
the late Merle Haggard. This isn’t a sentimental story: it’s about a promoter who tried to run a game on Hag and Ingram. Such sly humor is a good indication of the sensibility behind Midnight Motel,
a record whose heart lies in the tattered corners and slower numbers
but also surfaces on ragged singalongs and the easy-rolling numbers that
give the album a lift. Midnight Motel is an album that asserts Ingram‘s
strengths as a songwriter — nothing here has an eye on the charts but
they’re all accessible, waiting for the right bit of polish — but the
charm of the record is how he leaves loose ends hanging, suggesting that
his story began long before this album and will continue long
afterward.

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Gillian Welch – Boots No. 1

“If any of y’all wanna give me shit about my twang, you can just do it,” Gillian Welch once told a chatty San Francisco crowd in 1994. It was two years before Welch would release her debut Revival,
but the California-bred daughter of two entertainers was already
anticipating the skepticism that would greet her when she rose to
prominence in the mid-to-late ’90s singing about destitute coal miners
and Depression-era whiskey runners with an unsettling familiarity for
someone born in New York City, raised in Los Angeles, and who found
their lifetime musical partner at a conservatory in Boston. 
In 1994, Welch’s repertoire consisted largely of a number
of songs that would never find their way onto a record, a handful of
traditional tunes, and some John Prine
covers. For an artist with an aesthetic as carefully and consistently
rendered as Gillian Welch, it’s strange to think of a time when she
wasn’t producing or reproducing that aesthetic, but was, rather,
searching for it herself.
That sense of fresh discovery and wide-eyed experimentation can be heard plainly on Boots No. 1,
Welch’s first archival release that serves as a 20th anniversary
expanded release for her debut LP.  The two-disc collection is comprised
of outtakes, demos, and alternate takes culled from the Revival
sessions, a time when Welch and guitarist Dave Rawlings were first
honing in on their precise sound, mood, and style. 
All of which goes to show that the authenticity scare that surrounded Welch upon her arrival feels, twenty years later,
almost unrecognizably dated. Perhaps it’s because Welch herself, who
would go on to play an integral role in Americana’s big-bang O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack just a few years later, has since become the very aesthetic
and artistic paradigm for 21st-century roots singer-songwriters. Or,
perhaps, it’s because the anxieties about Welch’s authentic credentials
were so misguided in the first place.

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Ags Connolly – Nothin’ Unexpected

Ags Conolly isn’t going to fool anybody. In a discipline of music
where authenticity is everything, especially in the traditional realm,
the English born, raised, and currently-residing songwriter already
starts with marks against his ability to articulate or even accurately
interpret an artform that is distinct to the American South and West,
and born from rural landscapes, wide open spaces, and a life experience
the British Isles just can’t re-create, however close certain English
locales may come in certain instances.

But the good news for Ags Connolly is he doesn’t try. He understands
this fundamental limitation more than anybody. And that is the key to
his music. Nothin’ Unexpected is traditional country, meaning
you’ll hear fiddle and steel guitar, and many other indicators that your
brain will immediately recognize as the familiar modes of country’s
original and authentic sound. But it’s all done in a voice and
perspective authentic to Ags himself instead of trying to stretch the
truth, or do his best impression. And through this, he’s able to be both
country, and authentic, despite his place of origin…

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