Music from Canada's West, for Canada Day

Kerry Dexter's picture

Midsummer celebrations take place across Canada in the time surrounding Canada Day on the first of July. How about music to go along? Canada has poured forth a wealth of singers and songwriters, from legendary folk poet in song Gordon Lightfoot to million selling country musician Shania Twain. For this year’s Canada Day, here are four artists who make their homes in Canada’s west.

Music from Canada's West, for Canada Day

Husband and wife Jason and Pharis Romero make their home in the northern woods of British Columbia, where they build both songs and banjos -- Jason’s banjos are played by Ricky Skaggs and Dirk Powell. The pair’s original songs and fresh versions of the songs of others hold that handmade quality, too, a care and craftsmanship and spirit that will have you listening to their album A Passing Glimpse to find new things each time you hear it.  There are re-imagined versions of familiar songs from the public domain, including Out on the Western Plains and Cumberland Gap. There are several well selected songs by other writers, such as Dottie Rambo’s It’s Me Again Lord and Uncle Dave Macon’s Hillbilly Blues. There are original songs, most written by Pharis, including the thought provoking title track, and one which they wrote together, called Forsaken Love. They are masters of old time style, and of the right moment in singing duets, too.


Ian Tyson builds his life under the western skies of Alberta, a life that includes being a rancher and a musician. Both of those play out in his work on Raven Singer, a collection of ten original songs that offer meditations on the past of the west, such as Charles Goodnight's Grave, and vibrant stories of the present, including Saddle Bronc Girl. Tyson started out playing the guitar while recovering from a rodeo accident, and part of that past comes in on Blueberry Susan. Perspectives from other landscapes weave gracefully with those of the west in the jaunty Back to Baja and the reflective Under African Skies. The first song Tyson ever wrote, more than fifty years ago, was Four Strong Winds, which has become a legendary song across Canada and across the world. Though his voice is a bit more rugged now than it was in his days as part of the top folk duo Ian & Sylvia, he’s not lost a bit of his writer’s touch, or his ability to put the west, past and present, into vivid place in music.


Eileen McGann lives in British Columbia these days, and in the past has lived in several parts of the country, including Alberta and Ontario. All of that, and the fact that she is first-generation Canadian, born to Irish parents in Canada, influences her music. A fine place to take in the diversity of her work is the album Journeys, which includes a number of originals along with songs from the tradition. Reservations offers a unique look at the lives of First Peoples and the need to find a home in heart and mind, as well as in place. Windigo’s Coming is a fast-paced story which adds First Peoples legend to environmental concerns. Jock O’ Hazeldean is a song from the tradition, which proves a showcase for McGann’s thoughtful way of adding her own interpretation to such music, and a showcase for her gorgeous voice, as well. McGann’s sense of humor comes into lively focus with the song Too Stupid for Democracy, while her pride in Canada is but one of the aspects of the story she tells in Rolling Home Canadian. I See My Journey finds McGann offering hope and reassurance in a way that shows her grace with using few words and economy of melody to make her point.


Storytellers all, different voices, different stories, all well worth your hearing this Canada Day, and through the year as well.



Kerry Dexter is music editor for Wandering Educators. You may reach her at music [at]wanderingeducators[dot]com

Kerry writes about music, the arts, travel, and history at a number of places, including Perceptive Travel, and The Encyclopedia of Ireland and the Americas. as well as her own site Music Road. She is working on a book on Irish music, and on developing workshops on songwriting and Celtic music.