A Marathon Run Through Saskatchewan Music’s Best of 2016 Longlist

Recently Saskatchewan Music posted their 2016 longlist for voting, complete with a Spotify playlist containing many of the nominated projects.  Because I was mostly (and sadly) unfamiliar with the Saskatchewan music scene, I thought this was a great opportunity to learn more.  And, may I say: I was blown away by the quantity and quality of talent on the list.  (I bet that this list doesn’t even scratch the surface.)  Multiple languages and musical styles are represented on the list – there is definitely something for everyone.

I spent last week listening to at least part of every album on the list – thank goodness for a long commute and my own office!  Narrowing down my vote to 10 choices was nearly impossible (and if I were a less ethical person, I might have considered voting from both my office locations – BUT I DID NOT, Sask Music, I PROMISE!).  Here on GDW, however, no such constraints apply, and so we present a brief (but not comprehensive) list of some of our favorites from the list.

(Note: If you like the music here, please consider purchasing their albums if possible so they can continue to create terrific art.)

Alexis Normand – Alexis Normand

The funky grooves at the beginning of this album’s opening track, “Le vent dans l’dos,” might lead the listener to expect a full-out groovefest – but this track, like the whole project, is full of surprises.  The funk is soon joined with some jazz and some orchestration, providing a terrific counterpoint to Alexis Normand’s lovely voice.  I dare you not to 1) get “La chance que t’as” stuck in your head and 2) start singing along with the chorus, even if you don’t speak French.


Andy Shauf – The Party

We actually picked up this CD on one of our recent trips north of the border, and this project has been getting a lot of buzz in the Canadian music press.  So when I saw the album on Sask Music’s list, I moved it to the top of the to-listen pile, and haven’t regretted that for a second.  There have been a number of Canadian albums this year that have evoked a 1980s vibe, but from the start “The Party” put me squarely in the 1970s (where, truthfully, I’m happiest), especially with the great bass sound and keyboards.  This concept album – which, for me at least, really does evoke how it feels to attend a party – is highly recommended.


Ava Wild – Bare

Singer/songwriter Ava Wild’s album features her powerful voice over acoustic guitar accompaniment – I can hear some folk as well as some funky jazz chords underneath her lovely vocals, but her music is quite unique.  I could listen to “King of My Heart” over and over, precisely for those jazz chords that one so rarely hears in guitar-based accompaniment.  I’m thrilled to add Ava to my list of singers to watch closely.


BD Willoughby – The Qu’Appelle Valley

If my coworkers were able to hear my music in their own offices (and hopefully I wasn’t disturbing them), they might well have gotten a little tired of this, as I streamed it not once but several times this week.  The album starts off with a bang as the title track delivers driving guitar and great vocals, and it does not let up until the end.  Like folk rock with a bit of bite?  This is definitely for you then.


Belle Plaine – Unrequited Love

Belle Plaine is one of the few artists on the list with whom I was already familiar, so I was thrilled to see her inclusion in this list.  This project – a live performance – includes some beautiful, quirky songs with Belle Plaine’s gorgeous voice sailing effortlessly through it all.  Her work is a little bit jazz, a little bit folk, with some blues intermixed for good measure. In a recent Twitter exchange, she mentioned that she will be working on new music in 2017 – we can’t wait.


Del Suelo – I Am Free

This rocking project – Del Suelo’s first as a solo artist – kicks off with the great song “By Myself,” and does not let go of the listener until the end.  “Lavender Girl” in particular features a hypnotic percussion beat first paired with deceptively simple power chords on electric guitar, then acoustic guitar.  Check the website below out, as the album is paired with a book.


Eliza Mary Doyle – It Ain’t What It Seems

Banjo, mandolin, guitar, dobro, folk harmonies – oh yes, these are a few of our favorite things, and they’re present in abundance in Eliza Mary Doyle’s project.  From the rollicking start of “Nothin’ to Lose,” to the quieter moments of “Say It” and “Old Blue Jeans,” to the toe-tapping “Wish I Felt This Good Without the Whiskey,” this is a thoroughly enjoyable album.


Eric Taylor – Dreams in Colour

This EP opens with a powerful, emotive voice over electric guitar and rolls right on through.  “Big Night” stands out as an anthemic tune in minor that builds to a frenzy, and then the next track (“Frayed Love”) surprises yet again with a more acoustic sound, demonstrating Eric’s versatility.  As with other EPs on this list, I hope there’s a full-length release in his near – and bright – future.


Government Town – III

This has been the perfect album to keep me warm this week as the temperatures here have dropped (yes, I know it’s MUCH colder in Saskatchewan!) – rock with a bit of folk and Celtic sound mixed in for good measure.  “Lead On” in particular has stuck itself in my head for days now, and “Took a Train” also stands out as a great song of traveling (which seems to be a common theme among Sask musicians – see Zachary Lucky for another example).  As the album name implies (nice homage to Led Zeppelin, BTW), there is plenty of earlier work from this group to enjoy as well.


Kara Golemba – Every Little Light

If you’re like me, your first thought when hearing this EP will be, “What a terrific voice!”  This project includes terrific songs to match, too – my toes were tapping uncontrollably to “Ghost Highway,” and “Mason Jar of Memories” has one of my favorite lyrics (and titles) so far this year.  Hopefully a full-length project is in Kara’s near future – an EP just isn’t long enough.


The Law and the Prophets – Village

This EP hooked me from the first with the swinging, bouncy opening track “Angelii,” complete with soulful singing and wailing guitar, and it has not yet let me go.  If you enjoy bluesy rock with great singing, give this project a try.  The band has promised new tunes before the end of the year on their Facebook page – I’m watching for them anxiously, guys!


Poor Nameless Boy – Bravery

This project features a terrific folk sound, strong harmonies, and memorable songs.  As with other artists on this list, journeys are a theme running throughout songs such as “Atlantic Ocean” and “Dream Boat.”  The lovely 6/8 rhythm of “Radio Return” is a quiet highlight as well and I found myself singing along to the refrain pretty quickly.


Ross Neilsen – Elemental

I will rarely turn away from a song that starts out with a capella harmony and “Elemental,” the title track from this project, was no exception.  Blues guitar and harmonica to start the second track, “Black Coffee,” then?  Sold.  (Although I wouldn’t personally sing an ode to black coffee – cream is a necessity, sorry, Ross…)  “Ash Fault” is another highlight with its mournful violin – a nice surprise, as indeed the entire album is.


Scott Pettigrew – Alone

According to Scott Pettigrew’s website, this is his first attempt at recording an album – and an impressive debut it is, too!   Although on paper the choice to record just with vocals and guitars may seem spare, in execution it certainly is not – Pettigrew’s singing and writing captivate from the start.  “Saskatchewan” and “Growing Apart” are standout tracks, and “Alone” features his singing versatility beautifully.


Zachary Lucky – Everywhere a Man Can Be

We posted about this album soon after it came out, and repeated listening has only increased my enjoyment of this album.  His previous work is equally lovely and well worth hearing as well.


~ L

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