North by South – A Celebration of Canadian Songwriting from Claire Lynch

September 14, 2016 | By

North by South. “It all started with an e-mail from a fan in Toronto.”

Claire Lynch is anything but a new voice on the musical horizon. She has been doing what she does, brilliantly, since the 70s.

The Front Porch String Band. Success as both a songwriter and a session singer. Finally a string of solo albums, beginning with “Friends For A Lifetime“, in 1993.

Like any vocalist, Claire is always looking for and listening to songwriters, whose work might match with her voice and direction.

As a Canadian, I often have to remind myself that although here north of the border, there is a strong flow of all things musical from the US, the reverse flow is not always as strong. Americans generally, are not all that aware of the Canadian music scene, and the people, including the songwriters, who make it the exceptionally vibrant artistic community that it is.

This is not criticism, it is simply a fact. Canada’s population is about one tenth that of our southern neighbours.

Which brings us back to that e-mail from Toronto.

The fellow who sent the message was a passionate fan of the Canadian music, and wanted to introduce Claire to that scene. It began with an iPod of songs by Canadian writers and flowed from there, leading to the new record from The Claire Lynch Band … “North by South”.

Nine of the ten tracks on the record are from the pens of Canadians. Some of those writers are true superstars of the Canadian music scene, like Bruce Cockburn, Gordon Lightfoot and Ron Sexsmith. Some are, perhaps a little more regional at this point in their careers, like JP Cormier and Old Man Luedecke. Some are long standing stalwarts of the Canadian Folk Music scene like Lynn Miles and David Francey, and then there is Willie P Bennett.

Willie was, without doubt, one of Canada’s great songwriting treasures. He was also a man who, during his lifetime, never did receive the recognition due a songwriter of his talents. His songs, however, were the motivation for the founding of the great Canadian roots music group Blackie & The Rodeo Kings.

There is not a weak song to be found on North by South, and not an undeserving Canadian songwriter in the bunch, but personally, I was thrilled to see Willie’s tune, “Andrew’s Waltz” included, and performed so beautifully. It really is a highlight of the album.

The playing on the record is brilliant, throughout, which is hardly surprising given that the musicians present for the recording included the likes of Jerry Douglas, Bela Fleck and Kenny Malone. The arrangements of the tunes are faithful … anyone familiar with the original recordings will find no huge surprises there. And yet there is a freshness to the songs, thanks to Claire’s wonderful vocal style, and the excellence of the supporting musicians. Even tunes like Cockburn’s “All The Diamonds” and Lightfoot’s “It’s Worth Believin'”, which I have been listening to for literally decades, come across with new life.

Perhaps the most obvious selection for an album of Canadian songs by a Bluegrass singer is Lynn Miles exceptional sketch of life in the West Virginia coal mining towns, “Black Flowers”, and Claire performs it beautifully.

Obviously, selecting just ten Canadian songwriters for an album like this must have been incredibly difficult, and Claire acknowledges the breadth of talent we have in Canada in her liner notes, with a list of 27 other writers whose work she considered. Who knows, might we be able to look forward to a second volume of “North by South”?

More likely, Canadian writers will simply become part of Claire’s repertoire moving forward.

Oh yeah, the guy who wrote that e-mail? He and Claire ended up getting married, and the one non-Canadian song on the record is Claire’s song “Milo”.

“North by South” is to be released on Friday, September 16, and it will be the Feature Album of the Week on FolkNRoots Radio, beginning Saturday, September 17. So tune in and have a listen. You can check the schedules on the web site.

The video included here is the official video for “Molly May”, written by JP Cormier.

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Category: Record Reviews

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