Late-blooming Canadian troubadour keeps the dream alive
John Wort Hannam had a curious entrance into the world of pro-musicianship. Seemingly a happy middle-aged grade school arts and language teacher on a Canadian reserve, it wasn’t until 1997 when he happened upon a Loudon Wainwright III album and was so utterly enthralled with his storytelling and musical format, he bought a guitar, learnt a few chords, then quite his job to follow his nascent dreams a couple of years later.
Queen’s Hotel, Hannam’s fourth album arrives from a nostalgic stance. The cover art fitting the music perfectly, adorned as it is with sepia photos of a Calgary that time has since let go, and the stories in his songs (most notably ‘Shipwright oh Shipwright’, ‘Pier 21’, ‘With the Grain’) arrive like voices from the past channelling the tales and dreams of working people of his home through time. Elsewhere ‘Church of the Long Grass’ sounds something like a people’s unofficial anthem with it’s sense of belonging and in praise of the land over theological concerns (“I never found salvation in Jesus, whiskey or pill, never found it in money or the good book, I found it here in these hills”)
The buoyant ‘When I Drink too Much’ lifts the mood superbly with its knockabout country swing, while he duets with Jenny Whiteley on the equally sprightly ‘Worth a Damn’
Recorded entirely live with next to no overdubs ‘Queens Hotel’ is a stripped-down acoustic folk record featuring just acoustic guitar, dobro, mandolins and double bass, lending everything a sparse but spacious quality. Hand-in-hand with that Hannam has a strong assured voice with a hint of nasal quality and an attractive sense of melody that is strongly reminiscent of our own Bob Collum at times.
Education’s loss continues to be music’s gain, as ‘Queen’s Hotel’ is never less than a pleasure to experience.