2018 continues to be a banner year for new music. Here at Great Dark Wonder, we continue to be overwhelmed with the influx of music heading our way from across Canada. Looking for a little folk, a little country, or a little Americana? Here are four amazing recent releases to help satisfy your cravings.
Hadley McCall Thackston, “Hadley McCall Thackston”
I first heard the pure and honest vocals of Hadley McCall Thackston during a review of the most recent “Jimmy and the Moon” album from Stephen Stanley, Hadley received a ringing endorsement during a recent chat in Toronto with Stephen himself, prompting us to explore his Wolfe Island label-mate for ourselves once her debut album was released. With a strong feeling that this relatively unknown artist was primed to burst onto the music scene, just one spin of her new album offers a bold proclamation that Hadley has indeed arrived.
Hailing from Decatur, GA, some may question how Hadley qualifies for inclusion on a blog that focuses primarily on Canadian music. Having made her sojourn north to resettle in Ontario, her collaborative work with both Stephen and H. Chris Brown, and a string of European shows with The Stephen Stanley Band, Hadley has easily earned a ‘Team GDW Stamp of Approval’ and exemption from our standard criteria. Give this debut album a spin and I doubt you will question such a decision when your senses are overloaded by this absolute gem.
Firmly rooted in the folk-Americana music tradition, Hadley explores many musical influences across this debut, exploring blues, soul, country and even light jazz with these ten self-penned tracks. Opening with “Butterfly,” an ode to two important people in her life, Hadley mesmerizes with her pitch-perfect voice and her ease in weaving personal and social issues into these compositions. Whether debating issues of racism and guns (“Change”), questioning religion (”Redbird”), or recalling fond family memories (“Land Mountain Waltz”), Hadley is comfortable in not diluting her subject matter, expressing such passion with maturity and ease. Not intimidated with sampling other genres, check out her sultry vocals on the bluesy “Ellipsis,” and the toe-tapping jazz elements during “Devil Or Angel.” An incredibly impressive and well produced debut, Hadley McCall Thackston is not only redefining the future of this genre, but is yet more proof of the incredible talent coming out of Wolfe Island right now. Miss this one at your own peril.
Espanola, “Outside Saskatoon” (single)
Highly regarded for his work with many of Canada’s well-known recording artists (City & Colour, Elliott BROOD, Donovan Woods), acclaimed multi-instrumentalist Aaron Goldstein released a Double A-Side single earlier this year under the name ‘Espanola.’ Having enjoyed seeing Aaron perform some amazing lap steel duties for Daniel Romano very recently, nothing further was needed to prompt searching for his latest material. Firmly rooted within the Americana genre, Espanola sees Goldstein (vocals, guitar, Hammond Organ) collaborate with Carleigh Aikins (piano, vocals), Anna Ruddick (bass) and Blue Rodeo’s Glenn Milchem (percussion) for this single.
Goldstein is mostly known as a side man, often “busy making records for other people that it’s rare that he get to put any kind of major work into his own music,” explains his publicist. And indeed, as a great vocalist in his own right, Aaron’s voice immediately captivates your attention, while his stellar supporting cast hold on to it for the duration of the 2:58 running time of “Outside Saskatoon.” Combining the melodies of John Mellencamp with the grit of Steve Earle, this up-tempo number will appeal to all fans of both alt-country and roots-Americana music alike.
Completing this Double A-Side is a beautiful interpretation of “It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken;” the Tragically Hip penned hit that took its name from an acclaimed Canadian graphic novel of the same name, and which spins the phrase into a battle-tested mantra that channels the fortitude of the human spirit in light of tragedy (source: National Post). Featuring additional lead guitar from Ian Blurton, Espanola are every bit as poignant and emotive with their delivery of this message as was the late and great Gord Downie himself.
Claire Coupland, “On The Other Side”
With the release of her second EP, Toronto based singer-songwriter Claire Coupland is poised and ready to share her tales of city life, heartbreak, independence, and a desire to be closer to nature. Combining a little folk and a little country, “On The Other Side” offers five original compositions that are firmly rooted in the Roots-Americana tradition. Originally from Vancouver Island, Claire headed east to Ontario to pursue her musical career, and with this second EP in three years, we are introduced to an upcoming artist ready to stake her claim within the singer-songwriter circles.
Released as the first single from this EP, “Bound For Love” is an up-beat number that acts as a wonderful introduction to Claire’s music. Entranced immediately by Claire’s vocal clarity, the musicianship and polished production across “Bound For Love” are exemplary, and demonstrate a musical maturity well beyond her ‘newcomer’ status. Pitching a lively tempo and gradual build-up in intensity, this single perfectly encapsulates Claire’s musical identity, and lays a strong foundation for the remainder of this EP. “Love In Your Eyes” leans a little more to the country genre, with a slower pace to deliver the lines, “Was it a moment in time / is this where we say goodbye? / Maybe I should put up a fight / Because I thought I saw love in your eyes;” and wrapped naturally with some piano and dominant lap steel.
There are two tracks on the EP where both Country and Americana intersect beautifully. “Get Outta This Town” boasts some strong musical support to keep pace with Claire’s passionate lyrics. Her powerful vocal range peak during the lines, “Morning will break but I won’t make a sound / Gonna leave you behind and get out of this town,” captures her outpouring of a lost love perfectly. And with “This One’s For The Road,” Claire brings her brief country sojourn back full circle to her folk-roots style, offering a delightful ‘Jessica Mitchell meets Kathleen Edwards’ encounter. For me, “Fleet Street” is the standout track on this EP. With a strong emphasis on her vocals, some great lyrics and a smooth (and surprising) saxophone solo, this one combines the jazz style of Norah Jones with the tempo of Amanda Rheaume, and has every potential to be a mainstream crossover success. “On The Other Side” is a stunning EP, and a promised future full-length album is definitely on our musical radar.
Jory Nash, “Wilderness Years”
Sustaining a livelihood for an independent musician is a tough one, and fortunately, government funded resources such as FACTOR (Canada) are a lifeline for many trying to raise revenue to create, record, and distribute their music. Established artists such as Jory Nash, who has eight albums already under his belt, should have no concerns about the prospect of recording and producing album number nine, right? Actually, the opposite is true. For Jory Nash, “Wilderness Years” almost never saw the light of day; no grant support was available and the last remaining lifeline was a complete leap of faith via a crowdfunding campaign. “Without the kind and generous support of so many people this recording simply would not have been possible,” states Nash in his CD liner notes.
Jory is certainly not alone as an artist facing economic hardships within their profession and contemplating throwing in the towel (Linda Ortega shares a similar story). But fortunately, with the aid of his GoFundMe support and outpouring of encouragement from his peers, “Wilderness Years” is not only alive, but could be one of his best albums during a 20 year professional career. Boasting eleven self-penned tracks, and an all-star supporting cast (including Lori Cullen, Dean Drouillard, Robbie Grunwald, Suzie Ungerleider and Lydia Persaud), both Jory and producer Chris Stringer have created an amazing album that absolutely demands to be heard. Moreover, there are no tell-tale signs here of being made on a budget. Quite the opposite, in fact, with Nash’s authenticity and Stringer’s top-notch production skills evident across the entire album.
Leading with “Sister Station,” Nash offers a tongue-in-cheek first-person narrative of a “washed-up folk singer / even if he’s a Paul Simon dead ringer,” with little radio airplay, zero chances of a music video, and disdain for a well known music streaming service. Seeking to articulate the difficulties faced as a musician struggling to make a living in an ever-changing industry, Nash (with beautiful harmonies from Lydia Persaud) forgoes any light hearted nature during “Dark Matter,” sharing such poignant lines as, “Failure only takes its toll / When you lose your self-control / Every little failure gives me hope to rage against.” But all is not lost for Nash, with several odes to his new experiences involving fatherhood (“The Astral Plane”), his homage to music past (“We Don’t Talk About Her”) and the greatest Canadian passion, hockey (“A Great Big Hole”). Thank you Jory Nash for not giving up on “The Wilderness,” and even if this turns out to be your last hurrah (as far as recording), rest assured that your fans are grateful for all nine albums that you have shared on your musical journeys.