Saskatoon Star Phoenix
The late Stan Rogers (he died in an airplane fire in 1983) was a vital link between the folksong tradition of the British Isles, imported to the Maritimes and Newfoundland, and the new, introspective singersongwriter generation that included Joni Mitchell and James Taylor.
Borealis Records has undertaken to remaster Rogers' recordings, the most recent of which are 1978's Turnaround, his second studio album, and the spirited Between the Breaks ... Live! from 1979.
As producer Paul Mills notes on the CD cover, Turnaround was just that, a major shift from Rogers' hugely well-received first album, Fogarty's Cove, with its emphasis on the seafaring tradition.
Here Rogers still goes down to the sea, as in his tribute Bluenose and the heart-wrenching The Jeannie C., but he also goes fully introspective with Song of the Candle, about a folksinger trying to write a song, and country with Front Runner, about a guy whose life has taken a turn for the worse, and So Blue, about watching a woman on a train and having strong thoughts of Joni Mitchell.
For those who were lucky enough to see Rogers live, Between the Breaks is a magnificent reminder of the man's sheer power on stage. Opener Witch of the Westmorland harks back to the English tradition, with a wild streak to it, and the a cappella Barrett's Privateers is now a Canadian institution.
The White Collar Holler, another a cappella number, is a hilarious jab at office life, while The Mary Ellen Carter would give backbone to cooked spaghetti. Rogers was and is a national treasure. If you haven't picked up his albums before, now's the time. If you know the story of Jonah from the book of his name in the old Hebrew Bible, you'll know that he was not on his way to church or to do the Lord's work the day he got swallowed by a whale. But he had a change of heart - a conversion, you might say - in the belly of the great beast, and he came out ready to work for a different master.
Looks like the same thing's happened to guitar master Kelly Joe Phelps, and he gives us 12 clues to his conversion on his latest album, Brother Sinner & the Whale.
Going with the stripped down, testifyin' sound of solo guitar and vocal, Phelps opens with the country blues of Talkin' to Jehova, his finger-picked Dobro accentuating his conversation. In Goodbye to Sorrow he finger-picks and strums his way through a song about being saved by Jesus and redeemed by the Lord, and in the self-explanatory Hope in the Lord to Provide makes a slow and quiet Dobro testimony.
There's some lovely flat-picking in Pilgrim's Reach, where he asks the classic pre-conversion question, Why do I choose to suffer? and he offers a lovely little melody in the instrumental Spit Me Outta the Whale.
Some of the songs here, such as The Holy Spirit Flood, offer meticulously involved guitar work along with their spiritual message, Phelps twisting and turning through many minutes of inspirational playing.
Down to the Praying Ground is a Dobro tune about how he's changed his life and wants to live for God.
Phelps, leaning on only a couple of traditional gospel tunes, writes, plays, and sings his conversion to a new way.