Aengus Finnan,
North Wind
(Borealis, 2002)

North Wind is folk troubadour Aengus Finnan's follow-up to his award-winning debut Fool's Gold. The 14 songs on this album, including 10 original compositions, are varied both in style and subject matter and take the listener on a journey from a truck stop east of Sudbury and a windy graveside in Cobalt to the roaring rapids of the Musquash River and a quiet lakeview back porch.

This also marks Finnan's reunion with Fool's Gold producer Paul Mills, with whom he shares producing credit on this record. Finnan is joined by a host of musical friends, including Trevor Mills (bass), David Rogers (guitar), Jeremiah McDade (fiddle, mandolin, soprano sax), Dick VanRaadshooven (cello) and Joey Wright (electric guitar, mandolin). My advice: sit back, relax with your favourite cozy beverage and enjoy this wonderful collection of songs.

The CD opens with "Rollin' Home," an ode to the truck-driving heroes Finnan has seen at truck stops across northern Ontario and to the lonely women they leave behind. It has the steady rhythm of windshield wipers to keep its time and a happy ending that rings true for anyone who has ever been in a long-distance relationship. Proving his versatility as a songwriter, Finnan follows with "Ruins," as an angry farmer determined not to sell his family home, and "Swing Boys Swing," a railway shanty tune inspired by the history in an abandoned set of tracks near Finnan's hometown of Cobourg, Ontario. Mills and Rogers join Finnan for a rousing a cappella sing-along that will set your feet tapping.

Finnan shifts to a jazzy love story in "Apple Blossom Tyme," featuring McDade on soprano sax and Mark Inneo on percussion. Another of the delightful surprises on North Wind is a radio drama adaptation of American singer-songwriter Slaid Cleaves' "Breakfast in Hell" (retitled "Sandy's Story"). It comes complete with sound effects and casts an eerie spell on the listener. The story of this song (written by a Texas-based songwriter originally from Maine about Northern Ontario) lends itself to this kind of interpretation and allows Finnan the actor to shine.

The message of the title track rings out loud and clear: follow your heart and chase your dreams, even if there is a price to pay. He closes that song with these words: "Say what you will, I'm leaving this town." The dreamer appears again in the achingly beautiful "Last Dance," in which Finnan plays the wise observer of the life of a young ballerina who, full of dreams, leaves her small town for the big city: "It wasn't long for city ways to pull apart that dreamer ... Month by month no jury saw she danced above her peers/So there came a night she untied her dress/And paid her rent with tears." VanRaadshooven's beautiful cello weaves its way through the verses of this song, adding its layers to the tragedy of the story. It is his fine cello arrangement that accompanies the pretty ballad "My Heart Has Wings," which also features Serena Ryder on background vocals.

Earlier this year, Finnan was awarded the prestigious Kerrville Folk Festival new songwriter award after a performance of the heartwrenching "O'Shaughnessy's Lament." Finnan stumbled (almost literally) upon this story on a trip to the once thriving northern Ontario silver mining community of Cobalt, where he saw the graves of a mother and infant twins next to their father's grave, dated 40 years later. The heart and soul of the folksinger took it from there. I would love to know how they recorded this -- there is such emptiness behind the a cappella vocal that it transports you directly to that cold graveside.

Finnan dedicates his adaptation of the Bill Caddick/Pete Bond tune "One Hand on the Radio" to the memory of the late Peter Gzowski, a fixture at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for many years. The record ends with "Man of Plenty," a tribute to selfless givers, and the introspective "Moon on the Water," a pledge of remembrance to a lover who must be left behind: "Well I'm bound 'cross this country/Tip my hat and be gone/Each crossroad will serve to remind me/This is where I belong."

Throughout North Wind, Finnan weaves stories and chases dreams, carrying his characters through their lives with grace, poetry and a wisdom beyond his 30 years. Dreams are dreamed, fulfilled, crushed, laid aside and dreamed again. This record is the journey of a Canadian songwriter driven, by a passion for the stories, across the landscapes of a nation. It bears the mark of maturing songwriter, perhaps more weary of the world than in years gone by; but always compelled to find therein his inspiration, in the fields and the ruins and the forgotten voices.

- Rambles
written by Rachel Jagt
published 16 November 2002

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