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Music distracts us, soothes us, uplifts us, calms us. All those attributes are required more than ever in the COVID-19 era. The Globe and Mail reached out to a handful of Canadian musicians to ask them about the songs they turn to in difficult times for comfort, joy and peace of mind.

Jann Arden

Beloved Alberta-based balladeer had her induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame delayed after the 2020 Juno Awards were cancelled due to COVID-19 crisis.

I don’t know what it is about music. It’s magical. It can save people from hurting themselves. It can heal broken hearts. It can excite a stadium of 80,000 people and bring them to their feet and unite them. It’s the stuff of science fiction, and I think about it when I hear about songs being sent to outer space. I would send something by the Carpenters, probably their cover of the Beatles’ Ticket to Ride. I got it on an album from the Columbia Record Club in the 1970s. Karen Carpenter was young, but she sang perfectly. And the Carpenters just did great pop music, so well-crafted.

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Meg Remy

Toronto-based alt-pop provocateur and critic’s favourite releases music under the name U.S. Girls, which just dropped its latest album, Heavy Light.

The songs that give me the most comfort are the ones that point to the duality of death being the same as life, and that it’s a beautiful thing and a necessary thing. The first song that comes to mind is Joni Mitchell’s Shadows and Light, from her 1975 album The Hissing of Summer Lawns. That everything has its opposite, and that’s how it’s supposed to be, I find that so comforting. Another song is Hands on the Wheel, written by Bill Callery, from Willie Nelson’s album Red Headed Stranger. It’s all about someone who thinks they have control over their life. It’s a fleeting feeling though. You can go to bed feeling that way, but when you wake up it’s a whole different situation. The other song is Swamp Dogg’s The World Beyond, off his 1970 album Total Destruction to Your Mind. It’s a child talking to their grandfather, and the child is saying, “Tell me again how it used to be used to be, did grass really grow, and what was a tree?” I like it because it shows how important it is to pass things down orally. Especially when we’re in the kind of situation we’re in right now, I find comfort from talking to people: “What’s it like on your side of town?”

Rik Emmett

Familiar as the singer-songwriter-guitarist of the rock band Triumph in the 1970s and 80s, now semi-retired from touring. Latest album is the 2020 acoustic project Folk Songs for the Farewell Bonfire.

My wife and I are in our 60s. We find the music that comforts us are the songs that come out of our youth. I would mention something like James Taylor’s 1977 album JT, with Secret O’ Life and others. He was at a point of life when he was very happy with Carly Simon, and he had just signed with Columbia Records. That record has always been a really comforting record for me, and James Taylor is just that kind of guy. Another artist I always return to is guitarist Pat Metheny. A song of his that never fails to make me feel great is Something to Remind You, from his 1995 album We Live Here. Pat is very lyrical in his playing, very emotional. Guitarist Larry Carlton is another guy whose playing always makes me feel comfortable. He played on all those Steely Dan records, like Aja and The Royal Scam. That’s him on Kid Charlemagne. Those records are for hunkering down, cocooning.

Kevin Drew

The leader of indie-rock icons Broken Social Scene busies himself these days creating playlists, under the heading Calm Jams for the Times of Now.

This is the time everyone should just be sitting at home making mixed tapes and passing them around. I’m making playlists, with songs like Sun Will Set, by the Canadian cellist and composer Zoë Keating. It’s very peaceful, but you can feel the undertone. There’s a darkness. So, while there’s comfort, you have an understanding that there’s this urgency out there. You’re Still In It, by Tokyo electronic music artist Chihei Hatakeyama, is 18 minutes and 25 seconds of just drone. He has all these ambient albums. I’ve been sending them out to people. The third song that comes to mind is Gabor Szabo’s Ferris Wheel. It just takes me to a better place. Listening to it last night, I just felt like I wasn’t alone.

Joel Plaskett

The Nova Scotia singer-songwriter is set to drop his conceptual four-record project 44, due April 17, one day before his 45th birthday.

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My wife, Rebecca, has had a real influence on my musical tastes. I met her when I was 19, and she’s introduced me to a lot of good things over the years. The music she takes me to calms her, which calms me. Something like Peace Piece by pianist Bill Evans, off 1959′s Everybody Digs Bill Evans. It’s got this dissonance to it, but a beautiful measure. I’m verbose, a words guy. The space provided in my mind by an instrumental piece like Peace Piece is very much needed. Another one that goes back to the early days with my wife is Sleep Walk, another instrumental number, by brother act Santo & Johnny. Because my wife introduced it to me, it reminds me of our home, our house. Wherever I am, it takes me back to my family. Starbound by J.J. Cale, off his 1974 album Okie, is gorgeous as far as a dreamy piece of music. I’m going for peaceful stuff right now. Let There Be Rock by AC/DC will have a place as well, and you’ll to need to crank that a few times over the coming months. But, right now, I’m trying to wind down a little bit.


Find out what’s new on Canadian stages from Globe theatre critic J. Kelly Nestruck in the weekly Nestruck on Theatre newsletter. Sign up today.

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