I never intended to review a music CD on this blog. I created it to promote my books. Along the way, however, it has served as another forum for me to express my thoughts about other things: other books, my mountain biking experiences and my exploration of life-style changes such as Minimalism. So, why not music?
Rob Currie is a friend of mine. I’ll make that clear from the start. Although there are many miles and years between those days, we are both former Burke Brawlers from St Francis Xaver University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia (although neither Rob nor I ever did much brawling). We strummed guitars together in dorm rooms and I remember fondly his stage renditions of Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb and The Rolling Stones’ You Can’t Always Get What You Want. To be honest I’d not followed Rob’s trajectory in his law or music careers since our uni days. I did not know about his continued dalliances with performing in clubs in Halifax or that he’d put out a CD in 2003. Facebook changed that and I’m pleased for it.
But I’m not writing a review of his latest CD, Take Me Back, to flog my books or because he is a friend. I have many friends who have produced terrific CDs. I’m writing to express my thoughts on a bloody good new Maritime album. Of course I promised to buy it. Of course I promised to listen to it and even let him know what I thought. But, after the first listen, I felt the need to tell others why they should buy and listen to it too.
I loved these songs straight away for their musicality and production quality. Currie’s voice was so familiar to me, but it has matured, I’m sure, from his life experiences, his time in the clubs, his time in and out of the Maritimes. What I used to know as enthusiasm now resonates with the passion of a singer-song-writer who truly knows and loves his milieu.
The album title rings in a Maritime theme and one close to my heart as a so-called expatriate (There has to be a better word – just because a person lives away from the fatherland for 17 years doesn’t sever the bonds so clinically). The theme of returning home with the hope that home will still have you is a genuine Maritime experience, not just one for sentimental lyricists. Currie begins and ends with this theme. The strains of the opening fiddle on This Old River centre the listener and I can’t help but sing along with the chorus when I replay it now.
The track is not alone in this. All the songs have lovely, easy melodies backed by Currie’s straight-line guitar strumming (with the exception of the intricate Lightfootesque picking on Working in McMurray), accompanied by an impressive compendium of fiddles, accordions, spoons and pedal steel guitars. Kudos go to Currie and Bob Sutherby for their co-production on the album.
But it’s the lyrics which will bring me back. Currie has peopled his songs with classic Maritime characters with his own twists such as Blackamutt Jack (with chord changes, for me, reminiscent of Natalie MacMaster.) There are the songs devoted to the beauty of ethereal fair maids (Eastern Girl and Rose of Avalon), a call for changes in the justice system (Romeo), a tale about a murder out west (Working in McMurray), an instrument-less sea shanty featuring deep male harmonies á la Stan Rogers and Great Big Sea (Your Old Shipmate, featuring McGinty) and, of course, more songs about home and away (Leaving Toronto).
From This Old River:
Things just carry you away
You set awhile but you can’t stay
Been running like that river all my life
It strikes me kind of funny
How a little girl can be so tough
Sometimes a promise is never enough
Never Enough explores the great Maritime theme of people who dream of better, but have little chance of obtaining the life they want, held back by economics, overwhelming commitments, limited prospects, or just the relentless march of time – of which there is just never enough.
Romeo tells the tragic and true story of the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of Romeo Phillion. This is good story telling with commentary from Currie, our lyrical law professor. It’s a a cry for justice, including a somber litany of men wrongfully convicted, followed by a wonderfully clever image:
Should we put the law on trial?
Let the State answer our cause?
Take back the lives they’ve shattered
Make change for here and after
Tear the blindfold off of justice
Make her see what she has done?
The album also features a live version of Rose of Avalon. This is a beautiful song, apparently from his days with The Cornerboys –and penned by Currie. It has been mistaken as a cover of a traditional Celtic song which highlights Currie’s astute immersion in the genre. A lovely song for a wedding.
The album ends with the title track, a concert staple of Currie’s and a rousing rendition to cap off a solid, thematically and stylistically consistent album with some fun, easy listening.
I’m going to get my guitar out with the CD and strum along. You could play it at your next kitchen party. And if anyone attends the CD launch party on 5 September, tell Rob I said, ‘How’s she goin’ buddy?’