Blue Rodeo – Stealin' All My Dreams (2015)
Blue Rodeo did a brave thing this week and released a song about getting rid of Stephen Harper. I say it’s brave because it is: a band like Blue Rodeo builds their career on broad appeal, and there’s a difference between writing hopeful songs about love, loss, or even First Nations’ rights, versus condemning the current (and very possibly future) ruling party. Written by Greg Keelor and sung by Keelor and Jim Cuddy, Stealin’ All My Dreams takes a buckshot approach to protest, spraying ammunition at a wide array of government policies, including Harper’s positions on research science, treaty rights, the oil industry, the CBC and robo-calling. It’s neither particularly catchy nor particularly clever (they rhyme “Little King Stevie and his monarchy” with “the closed doors of corporate-ocrasy”), but then Stealin’ All My Dreams doesn’t set out to become an evergreen protest song, something to rally to in decades to come. All that it and Blue Rodeo care about is Oct. 19, 2015. If only a few more of Canada’s major musical acts would be as urgently and courageously shortsighted.
Isaiah Rashad – Nelly (2015)
Rashad’s slinking rap song concedes from the get-go that it will never be a hit. “We can’t be no number one / but we can be the jam,” he sings, he repeats, he repeats. The beat’s made of Rhodes, bass, neat little drum fills. Laid-back and lazy, but Nelly is an intellectual programme, a philosophical regime: Rashad wants you to learn to take satisfaction in what you already have. “We on our own,” he explains. I like it because there’s no frustration there, no panic. It’s not a problem that we’re on our own. In fact – it’s a solution. All those other guys? “They gonna do you wrong / and they gonna play you out / All right?”
Ted Lucas – It’s So Easy (When You Know What You’re Doing) (1975)
The words to this song came floating up as I walked in Gros Morne National Park this afternoon. It was rainy and misty and unimaginably gorgeous in western Newfoundland, the marsh-growth and tuckamore all jewelled with raindrops. I was wandering down the boardwalk. I watched a rabbit run away. And then this old song’s refrain, straight up the plumb line of memory. Probably Lucas never came to Newfoundland. He was based mostly in Detroit, playing sitar and balalaika on Motown records, opening for Black Sabbath and the Eagles. He recorded just one album and it’s all like this: soft, dazed folk songs, with redoubled voices and acoustic guitar. Sometimes I imagine Lucas could have been a pen pal to Nick Drake, stoned and sending encouragements across the pond. Other times I imagine him sharing an apartment with Skip Spence; he’s amiably doing everybody’s dishes, a dopey smile on his face. But tonight I picture Lucas no farther away than Lobster Cove, Nfld. He’s in the lighthouse. And it’s lit.
Sean Michaels received the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize for his novel Us Conductors. He is the editor of the music blog Said the Gramophone.