FPopular Canadian culture is kind of sad, and kind of hilarious, but mostly sad. Yeah, sad is the adjective I’m going to go with here. Metaphors that come to mind include: snake eating its tail, circle jerk, etc. (Take for example our multi-million dollar television productions that only 5-6* people actually watch.) In the music industry, protectionist government regulations force commercial radio stations to play 35 to 40% Canadian content. These stations only play what has been commercially-ratified in the U.S., resulting in endless Nickelback. Happily, and in spite of all this, a renaissance of excellent independent music is being heard from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Vancouver, B.C. Or, for the less geographically-astute, from coast to shining coast.
I’m not sure what Americans picture when they think about Canadian music. A mountie blowing into a maple syrup jug perhaps? Anyway, the music sometimes categorized as Americana, is in Canada, somewhat oafishly, called Canadiana, and some incredible talents populate the genre. This is far from a comprehensive list, and also entirely subjective, so feel free to post links in the comments.
Any list of Canadian anything needs to begin and end with Daniel Romano. After several years behind the scenes in popular bands like Attack in Black and City and Colour, Romano struck out on his own with a grandiose country persona. He comes on stage looking like pic related, and has single-handedly launched a genre he calls mosey, an unapologetic throwback to the whiskey-soothed crooners of yesteryear, specifically George Jones, who Romano is often compared to. Daniel Romano trivia: he’s also an accomplished artist, designing everything from his lavish get-ups and guitars to album art for Jerry Leger, another musician on this list.
She’s based out of Nashville now, but she got her start in Toronto. Plus she’s just eminently lovely and talented. Lindi Ortega trivia: though attained in a naked follow-back campaign, she is none-the-less the twitter follower I’m most proud to have.
Al Tuck is one of the most criminally-underappreciated musicians not just in Canada, but anywhere. CBC music writer Vish Khana begins a review with the words “Living legend Al Tuck…” leading a smart-alek commenter to remark, “Living legend, eh? Big words for someone with a cult audience of maybe 12 people.” Ah, what does that guy know! The consummate songwriter’s songwriter, some of Tuck’s supporters include Broken Social Scene’s Jason Collett, Buck 65, and Joel Plaskett. If there’s any justice Tuck will somehow end up with the broader audience he deserves. On the upside, his recent tribute to the grand-daddy of Canadiana, Stompin’ Tom Connors, has been getting some radio play. Al Tuck trivia: Tuck was the voice of Milkman Cat in the Spike Jonze-produced animated short, Higglety-Pigglety Pop!
Schooled on Bob Dylan, Hank Williams and Lightnin’ Hopkins, this hard-working young man has pumped out seven increasingly impressive albums since 2005, with a live album soon to be released. He’s been embraced by the likes of Ron Sexsmith and Cowboy Junkies producer Mike Timmins, can be heard playing at a bar, roadhouse or church somewhere across the vast expanses of Canada almost every night, and shows no sign of stopping until he’s achieved the prominence that some believe is in his near future.
Like many Toronto roots artists of a certain vintage, Borra got his start in the 80s punk scene. His history is a rich and interesting one. Iconic filmmaker Bruce McDonald initially wanted to feature Borra’s band A Neon Rome in his cult favourite Roadkill, but unfortunately the band broke up before that could happen. Now, Borra can be seen fronting The John Borra Band as well as The Rattlesnake Choir at bars like The Cameron House and the tiny, but well-loved Graffiti’s. Outside of Borra’s clear and plaintive voice, the highlight of any RSC show would have to be his long-time pal Screamin’ Sam on esoteric instruments like cheese graters, slinkies, and singing saws.
He wrote the line, “Your heart it is worn, you’re a bleeding machine,” has toured with Bonnie Prince Billy, and received glowing reviews in The New Yorker and Rolling Stone, but up until recently you could still catch him playing small, pass-the-hat venues around Toronto.
I said the list had to begin and end with Daniel Romano right? So, here’s more Romano.
*Four people who worked on the shows, one deranged crank, and one guy laying comatose in front of a television tuned to the CBC in a hospital room, so it’s unclear whether or not he should be counted.
Article by Mike Sauve. Follow him on Twitter @mpsauve.