Ron Hynes, Get Back Change (Borealis Records, 2003)
Bill Garrett & Sue Lothrop, Red Shoes (Borealis Records, 2003)

Ron Hynes is what we Canadians affectionately call a "Newfie." That's right, born and raised in God's country...or is it God's forgotten country? His biography tells us that "his first musical influences were the songs of Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Del Shannon, The Beach Boys, The Beatles and Bob Dylan." Well boyo, that sounds like just about all my friends! Hynes has made quite a success from that musical gumbo though. His songs have been covered by artists as varied as Mary Black, Emmylou Harris and Christy Moore, among many others.

This new album of songs is a treasure trove of new tunes. With a warm and homey voice and mellow production Get Back Change sounds like an old friend just dropped in to play in your living room. Sometimes this isn't a good thing; but after a long hot summer, with the sky grey and the first chill of autumn blowing in through the window these simple yet engaging songs are just the ticket.

The lyrics speak of leaving home "for the bright lights and the fast city life...[straying from] the harbour lights...[to] the Gardiner Expressway..." This is a sharp image for anyone who has seen those lights on the Gardiner. They replaced the standard highway lamps with new, almost amber toned, mega-bright lights. They scare the night away, and make you forget the soft yellow glow from the windows at home. He speaks of the cost of the big city..."you can spend spend and spend and never get back change." "1962" is a reminiscence of playing Del Shannon songs on a juke box; "From Dublin With Love" is a love song over 3,000 miles. Many of the songs are introspective, glimpses of life, sad, sorrowful, hopeful. Just like the songs that inspired the composer years ago.

The musicians are supportive and sensitive. They include Dennis Pendrith (acoustic bass), David Woodhead (electric bass), Curly Boy Stubbs (various stringed instruments), Burke Carroll (a standout on dobro), and vocal support from Cindy Church and Sylvia Tyson. This is not to slight the other musicians, who all acquit themselves wonderfully. And it's all wrapped up and produced by Paul Mills. Nice stuff.

Borealis Records' motto claims they are "the best in Canadian Folk Music." A quick browse of their Web site shows that they're not overstating the case; and their definition of folk music is broad and far-ranging. And that's the way it should be. The second album we listened to shared not only the label but several musicians with Ron Hynes.

Bill Garrett & Sue Lothrop are a Montreal-based duo. They began their partnership when Sue sang backup on Bill's last solo album. Their voices blend beautifully. They have a sound not unlike Tom Paxton and Anne Hills. Acoustic guitars, finger picking, earnest subtly political lyrics and those close harmonies.

The album begins with Shelley Posen's "No More Fish, No Fishermen" a comment on the devestation caused to the Maritimers when the cod were fished out. "The Hill" features Vern Dorge on clarinet, which lifts the song beyond your standard folk sound. Sue Lothrop's voice is deep and creamy and she takes the lead on many of the tunes. Garrett's unassuming tenor complements her perfectly, singing harmony on Rodney Crowell's "Leaving Louisiana." Some good guitar and fiddle playing by Dave Clarke and Don Reed gives the backup some depth. Tom Leighton adds a bit of zydeco accordion. Other musicians include Paul Mills, and Grit Larkin.

There is a mix of both English and Francais, as you might expect on an album from Montreal. They cover a Zachary Richard tune ("Au Bord de Lac Bijou") and "Un Canadien Errant." They also do a song by Ron Hynes, "St. John's Waltz," which celebrates those same harbour lights Hynes left when he headed to Toronto.

Folk music is still alive and well in Canada, and as long as Borealis Records has anything to say about will continue.

[David Kidney]