Listen to this track by Canadian institution and alt-country pioneers Blue Rodeo. It’s “Know Where You Go/Tell Me Your Dream”, the closing section made up of two connected songs as taken from their 1993 record Five Days In July.
Blue Rodeo are celebrated on a grand scale here in Canada, having initially built their reputation on Toronto’s Queen Street scene from their first gig in 1985 at the famous Rivoli. They became a stalwart live act from there, reaching stratospheric heights by the end of the decade and into the nineties. By the time they recorded Five Days In July, they were widely regarded as one of the biggest acts in the country, having long since distinguished themselves via the work premier-level songwriters and band principals Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor.
With that history in place, the band were still interested in progressing their sound beyond their influences as they’d always sought to do, those influences being that Cosmic American sound popularized by The Byrds, Gram Parsons, and Harvest-era Neil Young. To do so, they did what another Band once had done; they retreated to the countryside for a while. Read more
Listen to this track by Tennessean songwriter and true rags to riches tale in the flesh Dolly Parton. It’s “Coat of Many Colors” as taken from the 1971 album that references it, Joshua & the Coat of Many Colors. The story is a childhood tale, touching on a number of themes. But, one of the big ones is that of a mother’s love. On the week just before Mother’s Day here in North America (in Britain, it’s in March, friends), that’s a pretty top-of-mind theme for many.
The song was a standout on the record, and released as a single where it reached a #4 position on the country charts. It would later go on the be extensively covered by a variety of artists from Billy Connoly to Shania Twain, to Dolly Parton herself. It would become something of an anthem to the region out of which it came as well. It seems that there were a lot of hard-working mothers supporting families, which maybe why the themes of strong mothers carried this song to success.
But, this song touches on other themes besides, with the rare feat of doing justice to all of them.
Here’s a clip of Alaskan, and current Portland Oregon singer-songwriter Emma Hill along with band Her Gentlemen Callers with their newest single, “Meet Me At the Moon”. The song is the lead track from her upcoming record Meet Me At the Moon, set for release in 2011. Hill is an example of American roots music flourishing in every corner of the North American continent (and beyond), and at an age that belies her supremely affecting voice – age 22. But is this the debut of an ingenue? No. It will be her third album, after 2009’s Clumsy Seduction.
Hill’s music is rooted in current and established Anglo-Celtic forms that have produced folk, bluegrass, and modern country music. Her focus is on tight ensemble playing based around strong songwriting, with a background in folk music, singing in a duo while in Alaska. Later, she found herself on her own later as a solo artist in Portland, writing songs from a more personal standpoint.
What can be picked up from this song is how closely knit the musicians are, with each instrument in balance, yet with a casual looseness too, and with a hint of humour (note the quotation of Van Halen’s ‘Jump’ just as the band is warming up as played on the pedal steel guitar). Of course the most obvious highlight is Emma Hill’s pure, effortless voice.
I talked to Emma via email, and asked her about the video, songwriting, the importance of geography, and how someone’s age doesn’t necessarily determine how self-aware they are when it comes to affairs of the heart.
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Listen to this track from pioneering recording artist, country music deity, and famed coal miner’s daughter Loretta Lynn. It’s her self-penned “Miss Being Mrs.”, a tune that typifies Lynn’s genius – an ability to speak to her own situation, and to those of her audience at the same time. The song is taken from her 2004 career renaissance album Van Lear Rose, another Grammy-winning release after a 45-year recording career, and produced by guitarist, songwriter, and Loretta Lynn fan Jack White who plays on all of the tracks as well.
Loretta Lynn was a trailblazer in country music, and in the field of singer-songewriters when such a role for women was a rarity. From her coal mining centered childhood in Kentucky, to the Grand Ol’ Opry, to the top of the country music charts for decades after, Lynn had to create her own template for success, along with her husband Doo who served as her manager and promoter. The couple were married when Loretta was in her mid-teens, and they stayed together for 50 years and 6 children, despite alleged rockiness of the relationship. Doo died in 1996.
Her relationship and her personal experiences in general informed a lot of her songwriting. The extreme ups and downs in her songs are tied together by one commonality; that they were autobiographical, yet infused with empathy too, empathy for other women in her same situation. She was able to build an audience on this basis, with an honest and emotional core to her music that resonated with her listeners. Most songwriters try for their whole careers to attain this without sounding as if they’re trying too hard. Loretta Lynn does it as a matter of course.
And 8 years after the death of her husband, and at age 69, her ability to write songs with this thread in place is just as strong, as you can tell. This one is about Loretta Lynn missing her husband, and missing that sense of identity as a wife. But it’s also about all women who share in that situation. That is her genius.
For more information about Loretta Lynn, be sure to stop by LorettaLynn.com.