This is not the first time I’ve made this statement, and can pretty much guarantee that it will not be the last, but here is it: Do not listen to anybody who tries to convince you that “they don’t make good music like they used to,” or even better, “There are no good musicians anymore.” I still hear it! Really? People really think that good music as we know it is a thing of the past? If you limit your music exposure to mainstream music outlets, I can kind of understand where you are coming from. I mean, I’m the first to admit that I never trust these sources for my listening pleasures. But all new music is terrible and a thing of the past? Sorry, I politely disagree with your point of view. If you find yourself agreeing with such statements, but have made it this far into this article, I have good news – there is hope for you yet. The very fact that you are here means you have taken steps to look further afield for new music. Well, there is even better news – there is an abundance of simply outstanding new music out there, and if you are willing to put your trust in us, have we got plenty of treats for you to discover and enjoy.
As a self-confessed music junkie, I am always on the hunt for new Canadian music, and when I find something truly remarkable, I’m happy to share my findings and help spread the word. And as we’ve witnessed over the years, sometimes these artists have just burst onto the scene with little social media coverage, while overs have successfully honed their craft for many years, but somehow never found a way onto our musical radar. So, cue another of my often-used statements: I was listening to SXM radio and found this great new artist – one I discovered perhaps about a year ago, but who has recently infiltrated my regular music-listening rotation, and who I am just itching to share with you all. Many of you may even be amused at how late-to-the-party I happen to be with this one, but better late than never, right?
Blessed with both his powerful, soul-stirring vocal range, and his ability to paint beautiful pictures through his carefully crafted songwriting, Calgary, AB alt-country musician JJ Shiplett is an artist who has very quickly earned my full attention. Possessing a raw, raspy voice very similar in sound to American country artist Chris Stapleton, I recall stopping dead in the middle of a workday task when Shiplett’s 2020 single, “Waiting on the Rain,” came bursting through my radio speakers. If you are unfamiliar with the song, pause now and go find it, go play it, crank it up, and absorb it – the soft instrumentation that opens, the poetry being recited, and the gnarling growl in that voice that renders goosebumps with ease – just who was this guy? My curiosity accelerated upon hearing “Closer,” another single released around the same time, and one whose opening lines really held my attention: “Right around midnight / In the back of a bar where you can still smoke cigarettes / You and me baby, the look in your eyes / Ain’t no way I would ever forget.” Shiplett’s name was quickly jotted down, to be saved for a rainy day.
With a few albums already under his belt, Shiplett may not be a fresh-off-the-farm newcomer to the Canadian music scene, but given that his songs are dancing across the central Pennsylvania airwaves, hopefully this is a strong indicator that his unapologetic brand of roots-country music is being discovered far beyond his native Alberta home. Finding a great online article written by Eric Volmers for The Calgary Herald (March 20, 2020), I quickly learned about Shiplett’s sojourn to Nashville in pursuit of his recording dream, and ultimately his return home when requested to conform to the demands of the mainstream Nashville music machine over his own desired music direction. “[The label] had a different idea of who I actually am, just in terms of what I wanted to do and what they wanted to do,” JJ shared with Volmers. “We found ourselves at odds, so, graciously, they just walked away from it … I’m not interested in playing the game that people are willing to play much harder than I am willing to. I want to create music. I want to create art. I want to sing the songs I want to sing.”
Having spent a lot of time recently spinning Shiplett’s 2020 “Fingers Crossed” album, and just now finding more amazing music tucked away in his 2017 “Something to Believe In” debut album, I completely applaud the artist for the life-changing decision he made down in Music City. Let’s face it, being ostracized by Nashville execs for a failure to churn out cookie-cutter country-pop has been happening for many years, and the real winners here are those of us in the Roots-Americana music communities who welcome artists such as Shiplett with open arms. And what a list of talent JJ joins, in this community that has embraced the likes of Margo Price, Chris Stapleton, Kacey Musgraves, Sturgill Simpson, and Jason Isbell. Some fell out of favor due to personal reasons, or were pushed away for their individual politics and sentiments, but the bottom line here is that Nashville’s loss is definitely our gain with such stellar musicians joining the fold.
JJ Shiplett has rapidly become a firm favorite here at GDW HQ, and is somebody I hope to have the pleasure of catching live in concert once normal life resumes, once borders open, and artists from the western provinces travel east with their instruments in tow. I welcome the opportunity to sit or stand silently amongst a crowd in one of my favorite venues as JJ croons his slow-burning ballad, “Always For You,” then sing and dance with those around us once he cranks out the upbeat crowd-pleaser, “Darling, Let’s Go Out Tonight.” And I see too, it seems, that JJ has also recorded an alternate, acoustic offering of his “Fingers Crossed” album, cleverly branded as “Crossed Fingers,” so maybe a semi-acoustic gig is also a possibility. Not only have I found an excellent New Favorite here, I encourage you to check out his music and enjoy it too. Consider it all part of the service we offer here at Team GDW, the price you’ve paid for joining us on this on-going adventure of discovering, promoting, and loving some of the finest music that Canadian artists have to offer.