Queen's Hotel is award-winning songwriter Wort Hannam's fourth album, and the second for album producer Steve Dawson's decade old label Black Hen Music. At the 2009 Calgary Folk Music Festival Songwriting Competition the metaphor-rich With the Grain, which opens this eleven song collection, won Wort Hannam the Grand Prize. The conversational lyric captures the pivotal moment in John's life when he sought advice from his master carpenter father about relinquishing a 'safe' language teaching career for the 'uncertain' life of a travelling troubadour. Commenting that in this life there are: 'no sure bets,' his father then adds the prophetic: 'live your life with no fear and die with no regrets.'
Wort Hannam currently resides in Fort MacLeod, South Alberta and among the local landmarks name checked in Requiem for a Small Town are the Queen's Hotel and Ruby's Diner. The writer then reflects that: 'This town she's a slow lament, Of good ol' days and way back when's.' The lyric also recalls some of the writer's previous escapades around town, while his (new) life on 'the road' leads him to conclude: 'Used to know folks by name, but now it's just a guessing game.' Following int eh tracks liad down by George 'n Tammy, Gram 'n Emmylou et al, on the love-themed 'call and response style Worth a Damn, Wort Hannam duets with multi-Juno winning label mate Jenny Whiteley.
The Wort Hannam's hail from the Channel Island of Jersey, and Pier 21 replicates the conversational style employed so effectively in With the Grain. The song previously appeared on John's 2002 self-released debut album Pocket Full of Holes, and the lyric touchingly recalls how his father sailed on the Empress of Britain for Halifax, Nova Scotia back in teh late 1970s. Wort Hannam also reprises Church of the Long Grass, which made its debut on his 2006 sophomore release Dynamite and Dozers. The opening lines of Lucky Strikes, the closing song, relate how: 'She likes Lucky Strikes, and bourbon on her lips' and the writer cleverly closes his poetic portrait of a woman past her prime with the insight that local men now: 'laugh about how she's burnt out, there ain't nothing left but smoke.'
An acoustic folk roots collection, Hannam is ably supported on Queen's Hotel by Dawson on dobro, Weissenborn, banjo and more, John Reischman on mandolin and mandola, Rob Becker on upright, bass and Geoff Hicks on percussion. Considering his previous occupation, it's no surprise that Wort Hannam is a gifted lyricist when painting landscapes or relating life's humoorous or emotion filled moments. Whether Queen's Hotel will be nominated for a Juno remains to be seen. It certainly deserves the accolade.