Commuter Contemplations: Adrian Sutherland, “When The Magic Hits”

Adrian Sutherland

After working ‘the paid job’ from home for the last two years, with the easing of Covid-19 related restrictions came the decision by my employer to offer a probationary hybrid work schedule in lieu of reverting back to a full return to the office location. The option to commute just once a week (itself an hour’s drive each way) was very much welcomed, and brought with it the opportunity to finally play some of our latest CD purchases. Spinning one such album non-stop over the last few commutes, the arrival of certain songs suddenly started to stand out, and with each subsequent listen, seeds were planted for this new (and potential recurring) feature – Commuter Contemplations.  The idea – to differentiate from a standard album review – is to instead focus on just three of the album tracks; three that truly stood out during time spent on the road.

Having tracked down a physical copy of “When The Magic hits,” the 2021 debut solo album from Attawapiskat, ON singer-songwriter Adrian Sutherland, this proved the perfect candidate to debut of this feature.  Known to many as the popular lead vocalist and guitarist from the all-Cree roots-rockers, Midnight Shine, Sutherland returned to the music scene with this deeply personal album focusing on love, trauma, and Indigenous issues. Having teased us with his 2020 protest song, “Politician Man,” and the early 2021 hit, “Respect The Gift,” the arrival of the full album in September 2021 was itself a much welcomed musical gift (and the inclusion of these earlier singles as bonus tracks made it an even sweeter deal). And having shared the music video to the album title track late last year (featuring Colin Linden), and enjoying the recent hit, “Scared,” this album really is a gem that deserves a place in everybody’s music collection. Beyond these popular cuts, here are the three songs on this album that I encourage you to discover for yourselves today – and I must confess that selecting just three was an incredibly difficult process – every track on this album is simply superb.

“Make Me Better” – Co-written and produced by Tim Vesely (The Rheostatics), this ninth track on the album always had me reaching for the volume dial when it rolled around.  A deeply moving power-ballad, Adrian devotes this song to his wife and family, who he naturally misses dearly each time he is away from home. “If I had two wings / I would learn to fly / I would do anything / Just to reach the sky / I knew there was something about you / Baby you make me better / It’s hard to know where we’re going / Baby you make me better / One thing I know is I love you.”  Vesely’s piano notes set an emotional tone immediately, while Lyle Molzan’s drums and the unmistakable guitar rings from Colin Cripps (Blue Rodeo) perfectly sync with the pounding heartbeat in your own chest. “Pursuing music is bittersweet for me, because I am ultimately doing it for my family, yet it takes me far away from them physically,” Adrian shares. “The people that we love make us better. They make us feel whole, and without them we are not complete.”

Adrian Sutherland

“Big City Dreams” – Co-written with Scott Dibble, and produced by Colin Linden, the album’s opening track commences with some rolling drums and Linden’s bluesy, yet eerie guitar twang – and provides a perfect introduction to Sutherland’s music. “When the eagle glides the wind decides / Where she’s searching / The path is always there under your feet / Hear the drum and feel your heart beating / The earth is the song / Gawenan-aski / The earth sings the song that sets you free.”  The marching beat is further accentuated by some stunning strings, courtesy of Chris Carmichael, which compete beautifully with Linden’s dominant guitar tones. “I’ve always had a dream that I would play on a big stage somewhere, [and] this music journey has taken me far from my home in Northern Canada, and into the big cities,” offers Sutherland. “Sometimes you have to leave home in order to grow, and realize that the path you seek was always there beneath you. That’s what Big City Dreams is about.”

“Once That Was You” – To me, this fourth track is the odd-one-out here on this album, yet simultaneously belongs as much as every other track it accompanies. Once again, we marvel at Chris Carmichael’s strings that bring a strong, emotive element to this slower, almost sixties-romanticism sounding number. “I’ve been on my own / Far too long now to mend / I can’t stand this town / Everywhere I go a dead end / I need someone who love me / To hold me in the night / Once that was you / Now I don’t even know / Where you are / No matter how I try / I can’t forget / That once that was you.”  Co-written with Jay Semko during the onset of the global pandemic, for Sutherland, this was a time that felt like the end of the world. “That line actually opens the song, it’s definitely a ballad, probably the first real ballad I’ve ever written,” he recalls. “Jay writes from a place of deep emotion, and that approach was at the heart of our writing session.” Produced by Colin Linden, he too felt a strong connection to the tune. “It struck me as the sound of heartbreak and humility – grace under pain,” Linden offers. “And like another conduit of emotion – the great Roy Orbison – Adrian’s voice cried out for strings and atmosphere to deliver the message.”

“These songs allowed me to explore some personal stuff I’ve never been able to on past albums. Some of the themes are sensitive but it was important for me to write about them, like fighting through losses and traumas, and learning to appreciate everything I have today because it’s hasn’t always been clear to me,” Adrian offers. “The world we live in seems to be in chaos, with no signs of settling back down to ‘normal’ anytime soon. Some of these things scare me at times. Not knowing where all the love is, not knowing where we’re heading as a country. Are we truly ready to walk with each other in a good way? I was thinking about all of these things as I was writing this album.”

Photo Credit: Artist Website

The British guy that crossed the ocean and crash landed in central Pennsylvania (to quote Greg Keelor, “And I wonder what am I doing here?”). As the youngest of four siblings, exposure to music from a very early age nurtured my passion and appreciation for many musical genres. Continuing to discover some amazingly diverse and talented musicians based in Canada, I gravitate to live music experiences and remain devoted to spreading the word about such a vibrant music scene.

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