With Juno Week in Ottawa less than two weeks away, FYI is continuing to preview some of the hotly-contested awards categories. We will introduce you to some shining new stars in the Canadian music firmament as well as reminding you of the recent achievements of some of our well-established artists.
Today we're focusing on the Traditional Roots Album Of The Year category. The nominees this year certainly demonstrate the breadth and depth of Canadian roots music talent. BC, Alberta, Ontario, and PEI are all represented, and nominees range from seasoned veterans to younger combos making a real mark.
The nominees (in alphabetical order) are:
Jenny Whiteley - The Original Jenny Whiteley (Black Hen)
Maria Dunn - Gathering (Independent *Outside)
Ten Strings And A Goat Skin - Auprès du poêle (Independent)
The East Pointers - Secret Victory (The East Pointers * Fontana North)
The High Bar Gang - Someday The Heart Will Trouble The Mind (True North * IDLA)
Jenny Whiteley got an early start playing music with her father and uncle, Chris and Ken Whiteley, who formed the popular Original Sloth Band in the heyday of Toronto folk. Throughout Whiteley’s childhood, she and her brother Dan were along for the ride at countless concerts and festivals, and before long they were singing and playing washtub and washboard alongside their dad and uncle in The Junior Jug Band. Following a brief brush with academia to study anthropology at Concordia in Montreal, Whiteley returned to Toronto in her early twenties where she taught herself to play guitar and pursued her songwriting career in earnest.
After several years performing and recording with bluegrass band Heartbreak Hill, Whiteley recorded and co-produced her first solo effort, a self-titled album in 2000. This album was followed by Hopetown in 2003, Dear in 2006, Forgive or Forget in 2009, all of which earned glowing reviews from critics in North America and Europe. Her first two records also have the distinction of being Juno Award winners.
Whiteley and her musician husband Joey Wright reside in rural Eastern Ontario, with their two daughters. She dedicates The Original Jenny Whiteley to her father, Chris.
A true preserver of the spirit of folk music, and past Juno Award and CFMA nominee, Maria Dunn is often compared to Woody Guthrie for her keen social awareness and unvarnished songs about ordinary people.
In April 2016 she released her sixth independent album Gathering, produced by Shannon Johnson (of 2007 Juno Award-winning band The McDades). In keeping with Pete Seeger’s words (1994), “The key to the future of the world is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known”, Gathering celebrates love—the love of family, community and humanity that connects us and fires our actions to make the world a better place. The songs range from historical and narrative to personal and immediate, inspired by social justice stories both global “Malala, When The Grandmothers Meet” and local “How I Live, When I Was Young.”
Based in Edmonton, Dunn tours internationally and has been featured on CBC National Radio, CKUA Alberta Radio and BBC Radio Scotland. Accolades for her songwriting have come from Sing Out! magazine and the Rise Again songbook. Other artists have recorded (Niamh Parsons, Bob Bossin) or performed (Archie Fisher, Andy Irvine, Nathan Rogers) her songs.
Ten Strings And A Goat Skin
Hailing from Prince Edward Island, young acoustic power trio Ten Strings And A Goat Skin are transforming tradition with vigour, curiosity and sparks of goofy humour.
They’re inviting a new circle of listeners with their latest album Auprès du Poêle (“Around the Wood Stove”) to a sometimes moody, sometimes high-energy set of original and traditional songs. Expanding on the Scottish and Acadian roots of PEI’s traditional music, Ten Strings And A Goat Skin weave old-school Maritime, Franco-Canadian, Breton, Irish, and Scottish tunes with wickedly current grooves and clever quirks, flirting with indie’s best moments.
This bilingual Prince Edward Island trio led the country in 2016 landing four Canadian Folk Music Award nominations for Auprès du Poêle. 2015 East Coast Music Association Award winners, the group continues to gain interest and momentum with international festival bookings and feature articles, indicating this young bilingual group is hitting it’s stride.
“A polished, barrel-drum tight, rhythmically innovative and wildly entertaining traditional music powerhouse,” is how the Guardian describes Jesse Périard and brothers Caleb and Rowen Gallant and their energetic performance style.
Ten Strings And A Goat Skin will continue touring in 2017/2018 through the U.K., France, the U.S., Denmark and Canada
The East Pointers
This trio's Secret Victory album could easily stand beside any recording from any era in the illustrious Celtic/folk musical canon. It features 10 brand new original tracks written by guitarist Jake Charron, fiddler Tim Chaisson and his cousin, banjoist Koady Chaisson, vocalists all and, in the case of the Chaissons, members of Prince Edward Island’s reigning musical dynasty.
With Secret Victory, The East Pointers unwrap new possibilities in a musical style that dates back centuries, yet is still relevant on multiple, divergent continents. The trio makes traditional music seem ridiculously hip. Also the most fun thing on the planet to dance (and raise a pint) to.
“That’s something The East Pointers are trying to accomplish – breathe some new, original life into traditional music,” confirms Tim Chaisson, whose solo career as a singer, songwriter (see 2015’s acclaimed Lost in Light) is thoroughly established. “A lot of times, people think of it as music for an older generation but we’re hoping to introduce a whole new generation of listeners.” Only a fool would bet against the band – an adrenalized, roof-rattling, performance monster – or their excellent new album.
The group has already toured internationally.
The High Bar Gang
This bluegrass-based collective was formed in the summer of 2010, and since then The High Bar Gang has been bringing its unique take on old time bluegrass to the people of Western Canada. Vocal harmony is key to the band’s sound, and the blend of Shari Ulrich, Wendy Bird and Kirby Barber along with guitarist Barney Bentall and banjo player Dave Barber makes for a potent sound. Supported by Rob Becker on bass, and Colin Nairne on guitar and mandolin, the band’s repertoire stays mostly rooted in the golden age of bluegrass music with songs by the likes of Bill Monroe, The Stanley Brothers and Del McCoury.
Gang members Ulrich and Bentall are no strangers to Juno Award nominations via their earlier solo careers.
Highlights for the High Bar Gang include opening for Canadian music icons Blue Rodeo at Vancouver’s Malkin Bowl, and the many sold out shows they have played throughout Western Canada, including the prestigious Cedar Creek Winery Concert series and the Raven’s Cry Theatre in Sechelt. From the Brackendale Art Gallery and Victoria’s famous Butchart Gardens to Vancouver’s International Jazz Festival and San Francisco’s legendary Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, the band has built a solid reputation for their wonderfully upbeat brand of old time bluegrass and stories.