Red Deer Advocate
Maintaining his home base in Fort Macleod, over three previous albums John Wort Hannam has established himself as the province’s great folk hope; if anyone within this hard packed environment is destined for greatness, odds have to be in favour of it being the unassuming, former school teacher from the southland.
From his numerous area visits, those who have encountered Wort Hannam appreciate that his voice is pleasingly distinctive. As do Chris Smithers and Martin Sexton, two songwriting musicians that come to mind when listening to Wort Hannam, Wort Hannam and producer Steve Dawson ensure that this powerful voice is presented as his albums’ unifying feature. On Queen’s Hotel, his dreamy lyrical delivery allows each phrase to settle, to find relevancy in the listener’s experience.
Consistent with the previous Two-Bit Suit album, Wort Hannam is backed by a full band. Dawson’s presence is evident, but it is not noted when Wort Hannam is doing the picking or when it is the producer contributing. Rob Becker’s double bass provides depth, while John Reischman’s mandolin contributions are obvious, especially on the swinging Requiem for a Small Town.
Much like an old Merle Haggard album, Wort Hannam’s latest presents a series of vignettes that represent lives and stories greater than their four minutes suggest.
Noteworthy are Juno-winner Jenny Whiteley’s duet vocals on Worth a Damn, a tune that would bring to mind John Prine and Iris Dement even if the press sheet didn’t suggest such. Before I Wake, a song of the traveling troubadour’s life, is a highlight as is Lucky Strikes.
The album’s legacy song may be the lead cut, With the Grain; of such quality that it brings to mind the attributes of Guy Clark, this one contains workbench wisdom and, I suspect, will be played at more than a few funerals.
In true folk fashion, Wort Hannam delves into his own catalogue to provide updated renditions of two of his most popular numbers: Pier 21, detailing his family’s journey from Jersey to Canada, and the unofficial anthem of Southern Alberta, Church of the Long Grass.
Not only the finest Canadian folk album of the year, I can’t recall a more engaging or memorable folk album of the past several years. As did each of his previous discs, Queen’s Hotel demonstrates that John Wort Hannam is a major talent.
Starting this evening in Santa Clara, Wort Hannam is spending October bringing his music to California coffeehouses and folk clubs. With an album of the rare qualities of Queen’s Hotel, word is bound to continue to spread about one of Canada’s finest independent artists.