“What is Prince Edward Island?” Okay, so this opening remark is not something you’d expect to find in one of my GDW articles, but I was having two separate (but seemingly linked) conversations recently that triggered this idea of combining to create a “Jeopardy” approved question (and never fear, I know that PEI is an eastern maritime province in the Gulf of St. Lawrence). No, one conversation revolved around my well publicized affinity for traditional country music, and the second around the Canadian music scene in general – prompting the Jeopardy idea of ‘which Canadian province is the least likely you’d associate with traditional country music?’ “What is Prince Edward Island?” seemed like an appropriate response.
The “Birthplace of Confederation” may very well be Canada’s smallest province in terms of land mass, but when it comes to the quality of musicians per capita, PEI is loaded with so much top-tier talent, it is almost impossible to comprehend. The folk-roots community is well represented here (plenty to be found in our GDW archives), from Tim Chaisson to Catherine MacLellan, and Dylan Menzie to Rose Cousins – but just how does PEI stack up when it comes to the traditional country scene? If you’d have asked me such a question just a few years ago, I’d have probably name-dropped Whitney Rose (the Charlottetown-born, and now Texas native) as an immediate response, and, if I’m to be honest, would have probably struggled beyond that. As for today, well, that is a completely different story.
Over the course of the last year or so, we have witnessed the emergence of a growing traditional country scene on the island – one that has proven difficult to ignore. Shane Pendergast was one of our first such discoveries, an artist taking tales of rural life and Maritime history, and delivering them in a distinct country package. Within a matter of weeks, Lawrence Maxwell dropped onto our listening radar – another previously unknown-to-us PEI musician who impressed immediately with some serious old-school country charm and chops. And with enough thumping country-style bass and light electric guitar twang to accompany the more traditional flute and fiddle, Charlottetown folk singer-songwriter Justyn Thyme is the latest artist we’ve encountered who appears happy to straddle that line between Maritime folk and country.
“Come on baby can’t you see / See what your love has done to me / 4 in the morning I can’t sleep / Look what your love has done to me.” The opening beat on “If It Takes All Night,” the third single from Justyn Thyme, immediately reminds me of George Strait’s popular hit, “Heartland,” and even if there are no “twin fiddles and a steel guitar,” there is certainly the great driving beat and feel-good factor of Strait’s piece, courtesy of Justyn and his very talented ensemble of friends – including Josh Langille on electric guitar, and former ‘Ten Strings And A Goatskin’ member Rowen Gallant on fiddle. And although Justyn is happy to dismiss this single as “a simple tune that points to the complex nature of thought and emotion when experiencing love” (source: Bandcamp), what we discover instead is a very well composed, constructed, and executed tune that truly shines. Did I mention that this is only his third single to date?
“This song came to me in a much different way that I’d experienced before,” Justyn recalls. “I was laying in bed one morning listening to a mumbled melody that I had recorded on my phone … [and] started trying to translate the mumbled memo musings into language that might make more sense.” But to the casual listener, there is so much here that could easily convince you that this were the work of an overly humble artist with a much larger back catalog. Take, for example, the key moment of simulated birdsong, courtesy of Nick Van Ouwerkerk’s flute work, or the faux pedal steel created just from the guitars alone. “I kept [translating] in between morning’s rest in and out of a kind of dreamlike place, and by the time the bulk of the lyric was written, I was already seeing how the song would be accompanied on the guitar,” Justyn adds. “I picked it up, smoothed the edges a bit, and there she was.”
Pay extra attention to the vocal bridge at the 1:50 mark, complete with a slower pace and lesser instrumentation – itself a work of art and another demonstration of Thyme’s fine attention to detail. “She came through the back door / Into the kitchen / Turned on the radio / And rattled the dishes / And put on some coffee / And sat by the window / Then she turned to me / And said / You are all I needed / You are all I needed.” Cue the timely revival of the band, and the final, up-tempo push down the stretch. “If it takes all night / It takes all night / We can keep that kettle boiling / Or baby we can switch to wine / And I’ll hold a light for you / If you ever lose your way home / In the middle of the morning.”
So, to return to my opening line, “What is Prince Edward Island?” In a nutshell, PEI is the home of a thriving traditional folk-country music community just itching to be discovered. If the same ‘musicians per-capita’ rules apply that I stated regarding the folk-roots genre, are we ever in for an exciting journey. Based on this single alone (and having enjoyed his prior singles “Return Me” and “Never Be Lonely’), Justyn Thyme is certainly an artist right at the forefront of this movement, and most certainly one to watch.
Photo Credit: Constance Creates