Will someone please get to our government and shove its goddam head north of the border? The Canadians underwrite so many great artistic ventures that it's small wonder we're getting a number of 'em moseying down here and classing up the charts. More power to 'em, I say. I noted Beyond the Pale's new release (here) was helped by the Canada gov (several agencies pitching in) and more than one department got together to get this very rootsy gem out as well.
John Wort Hannam taught high school language arts on the Kainai Nation Reserve, the largest in Canada, until picking up a Loudon Wainwright LP in 1997, a guitar in '98, and his walking papers in 2002, opting out of the system to become a musician. It was an excellent choice. Queen's Hotel is his fourth release, produced by Steve Dawson and engineered by Sheldon Zaharko, who caught not only every note with delicate precision but also the westering skies, sawdust, early morning sun, and bullfrogs—unheard in the distance but, trust me, they're there.
Hannam's work is simultaneously gritty and exhilarating, pensive and jubilant, raw and quietly lush. Part of this is due to the unorthodox documentation method: the musicians sat all in one room, facing each other, no click tracks, no bedding, and only a couple of harmonies dubbed in. Thus, the immediacy of everything is palpable, and more than once I was reminded of the trad Dead, stripped Lightfoot, or just being privileged to sit down and listen to a saloon recital by an old West aggie and friends in for the weekend, getting together to escape farm drudgery and make music over a few whiskeys.
There's a pervasive poignancy that marks Queen's Hotel and its pedestrian common guy concerns. The working man vocals don't hurt either, nor do the homilies and back 40 aphorisms. Hannam knows well how to incorporate the wise and the mundane in such fashion that the listener is captured before even knowing it. Then the subtle inflections in his delivery imbue a very sober Andy Griffith sitting on the back porch, watching life go by while pondering what it all means…just before going out to catch a snort or two and maybe cheat on Helen just a bit and make Aunt Bee disapprove (Requiem for Small Town).