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Afie Jurvanen at Massey Hall in Toronto on Aug. 15.Jennifer Roberts/The Globe and Mail

“I never said, ‘Let’s make a country record,’” says Canadian soft-rock star Afie Jurvanen. But make no mistake: Afie Jurvanen has made a country record.

It is called Bootcut, out Sept. 15, released under the singer-songwriter’s stage name, Bahamas. It was recorded at Nashville’s storied Sound Emporium Studios, which opened for business under a different name in 1969 when it was broken in by Ian and Sylvia Tyson’s country-rock excursion Great Speckled Bird.

The musicians on Bootcut include Willie Nelson’s harmonica player Mickey Raphael, bassist Dave Roe (who has worked with Johnny Cash, Charlie Louvin, Dwight Yoakam and Loretta Lynn) and none other than country legend Vince Gill. Those guys don’t work cheap.

“Yeah, they’re expensive,” Jurvanen says. “But they should be. They’ve earned it.”

And how does one hire a superstar like Gill, currently touring with the Eagles, anyhow?

“You just make a phone call,” the Juno-winning Jurvanen explains. “I was flattered he knew who I was and was open to recording with me.”

Nashville is more than 2,800 kilometres away from the Ontario transplant Jurvanen’s home in Nova Scotia. For a guy who never did say, “Let’s make a country record,” he sure went to considerable trouble to do just that.

Bootcut is the sixth Bahamas album. It is a classy exercise in twang, story songs and pedal steel guitar. The J.J. Cale-like Gone Girl Gone chugs along on Tulsa time, the chorus to Just a Song is a lush as Conway Twitty’s pompadour and Second Time Around might have George Jones crying in his grave. Against the amiable lope of Working on My Guitar, Jurvanen sings about playing in a bar: “I’m just a-pickin’ and a-singin’ and hoping that you’re having a good time.”

I first saw Jurvanen perform live at the Dakota Tavern, a divey country music venue in Toronto. He had just released his debut album, Pink Strat, in the summer of 2009. Unshaven, irreverent and rough at the edges, the product of Barrie, Ont., unflatteringly wore long shorts in the tiny basement room. “I believe they were called jorts,” he says, 14 years later.

He has come a long way, both in venue size and fashion choices. We are speaking in the plush seats of an empty Massey Hall, where he will play on Oct. 29. The 42-year-old tall drink of water is a chinos-wearing vision in cotton and dyed blond hair. Asked about the tattoos on the knuckles of his hands, he takes a toothpick out of his mouth to talk.

“They’re the names of my daughters.”

He got the inking done in a Baltimore hotel room. He made a country album in Nashville. When in Rome, as they say.

The origins of Bootcut stretch back to 2021, when he arranged several remote recording sessions during the pandemic. The Live to Tape YouTube series captured Jurvanen performing in a studio from Halifax, while session musicians and recording artists including Greensky Bluegrass and Jason Isbell’s band the 400 Unit accompanied him from Nashville, Los Angeles, Melbourne and other locations.

The musicianship of the veteran Nashville players in particular impressed Jurvanen, who, when COVID restrictions were lifted, travelled to the same Sound Emporium rooms where the Grammy-winning O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack was recorded and where Ray Stevens crooned Everything is Beautiful for posterity.

Despite the location and pedigree of the musicians involved, a country LP apparently was not a given.

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Bootcut, out Sept. 15, will be released under Afie Jurvanen’s stage name, Bahamas.Jennifer Roberts/The Globe and Mail

“Afie wrote an album and played it with Nashville heavyweights, and it came out the way it came out,” says Robbie Lackritz, Jurvanen’s manager, producer and engineer. “The songs can stand alone in any clothes.”

Presumably the songs will wear rhinestones when Jurvanen plays the famed Grand Ole Opry radio program next month. But even if the Bahamas career catalogue is rich with horseback-friendly pop songs that mosey and drawl agreeably, it is possible Jurvanen will be seen as a genre interloper.

“I could be,” he shrugs. “But I certainly wouldn’t be the first.”

Indeed, record store remainder bins are full of pop-to-country crossover efforts. Everyone from Steven Tyler to Cyndi Lauper to Tom Jones to Darius Rucker to Lionel Richie to Kid Rock to Nickelback have succumbed to the siren call of the pedal steel.

Some of those projects were received with more enthusiasm than others, and it is Lackritz’s belief that the songwriting and sincerity of Bootcut will shine through. “Afie’s not a visitor using pastiche to paint over a product,” he says. “Ultimately it will stand on its own feet.”

Many of the session players used on the album are septuagenarians whose quiet confidence appealed to Jurvanen, himself an accomplished guitar player who has toured as a member of indie-rock icon Leslie Feist’s band and contributed to the late Robbie Robertson’s final album, 2019′s Sinematic.

“Those Nashville guys still love to play,” he says. “And I hope that when I’m 70, there will be some guy in his 40s calling me to come and play on his record. I would love that.”


Afie Jurvanen (a.k.a. Bahamas) recently played a pair of sold-out shows at the Jackson-Triggs Amphitheatre, a popular venue among the pinot grigio people on the grounds of the Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. According to the singer-songwriter, his fans there are in the mood for more than just music.

“I’ve been told that I set the record for the number of people who sneak away during the concert to fool around in the vineyard. People will drink too much and head into the grapes for sex. It’s definitely one of the wilder Bahamas shows in my experience.

“Because it’s a huge liability for the winery to have people wandering around the property, the security staff is constantly going up and down the rows of grapes. Apparently, they catch the most people there during my shows. I’m quite proud about that, because other romantic singers like Jim Cuddy often play there.” B.W.

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