Canadian-made Corin Raymond likes to tell stories. It is his thing. He tells a doozie at the beginning of the second disc off his song-y and sociable new double album, Paper Nickels. (It's a live album, recorded at the Tranzac in Toronto, paid for by $7,333.75 worth of Canadian Tire money. Don't you worry, we'll get to that story soon enough.)
Raymond, a high-soft singer-songwriter in a burly, chatty, John Prine-loving package, had received an e-mail from a club owner who fascinatingly lavished him with backhanded praise, telling him that he liked his stuff enough, but that he would need to knock off his pre-song banter if he were to come back to play (for a very small amount of money).
Bemused by the electronic missive, Raymond posted it online, which inspired a fellow songwriter to compose Change, a wry, easy-going strum-along that replies to that e-mail, with lines about not compromising and not conforming – "the next time you ask someone to sell out, you better have more to shell out, than fifty bucks and a couple of drinks."
On the recording, you can hear the crowd laugh, reacting to Raymond's sincere incredulity. Change is not an option for him. And while the album and the Canadian Tire-money angle has received a lot of press (including a piece by the Wall Street Journal), the real story is about the Winnipeg-born, Toronto-based Raymond – a folk-hero-in-waiting and a maverick with three chords and an unwavering will.
Paper Nickels comes in a colourful booklet that documents the crowd-funded "caper" and includes lyrics and extensive other notes. Raymond's online campaign involved the genial solicitation of Canadian Tire money. Funny-money poured in from all over the country, a Toronto recording engineer accepted it at par, and the home-spun collection of 26 songs (written mostly by true northerners, including some long forgotten if they ever were known in the first place).
Blues Mama, written by Toronto's John Borra, is a tear-jerker with no touch of mush to it at all. I'd love to hear The Band sing it, not that Raymond and his harmonic Sundowners (pianist-accordionist Treasa Levasseur, upright-bass player Brian Kobayakawa and guitar-mandolinist David Baxter) don't capture the song's sweet melancholia.
The record has an upbeat communality to it, Blues Mama notwithstanding.
Paper Nickel is an unfancy victory of an album. It is not a classic, but it is classic enough. I see Raymond's campaign to fund it as a righteous gesture of taxation, absolutely with representation. Raymond is for the folk. He's for the story.
Corin Raymond and the Sundowners play Times Change(d) High and Lonesome Club, Winnipeg, April 5 and 6.; Greenbank Centennial Hall, Greenbank, Ont., April 13.