Bill Garrett
& Sue Lothrop,
Red Shoes
(Borealis, 2003)

Bill Garrett has been a fixture on the Canadian folk scene for many years as performer, producer, broadcaster and record-label co-founder (Borealis). Sue Lothrop is a relatively more recently arrived, yet certainly an experienced and no less able artist. Based in Montreal, the two perform in an only modestly updated version of the style pioneered by Canada's most celebrated folk duo, Ian & Sylvia. The Tysons set such an extraordinarily high standard that it's not fair to expect any successors, however good they may themselves be, to reach it.

I suppose that had something to do with my instant predisposition, disc unheard, not to like Red Shoes. A kind of irrational dread kept me from listening to it, and I let it sit for a few weeks before my conscience got the better of me along with the uneasy realization that I did, after all, owe Rambles.NET a review. As the first few songs escaped from my stereo speakers, I heard a sigh. My own, it turned out, and it was of relief. This is an enjoyable album by a couple of people who know what they're about. What they're about is creating a music that's sort of the aural equivalent of a comfortable old shoe. In other words, not fancy, but the fit is hard to beat.

As composers Garrett and Lothrop are entirely capable, but they feel no call, one infers, to join the teeming mass of singer-songwriters. Content to apply their best interpretive skills, they choose songs from a range of sources. One of them, naturally, is the tradition, represented here by the one song everybody who has heard it will recall from Ian & Sylvia's first (1963) album: "Un Canadien Errant," the haunting lament of a French-Canadian driven into exile south of the border. Another instantly recognizable piece, Rodney Crowell & Donivan Cowart's "Leaving Louisiana," was most successfully covered by Emmylou Harris on her influential 1978 album Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town. (But if memory is not playing a nasty trick on me, the -- choke, gasp -- Oak Ridge Boys had the radio hit of it.) Appropriately, Tom Leighton's accordion gives this highly charged, Cajun-accented tale of bayou sexual treachery a kind of lilt that one would more readily identify with a French-Canadian tune.

The CD opens with "No More Fish, No Fishermen," the sort of half-sad, half-mad reflection on the passing of the fishing life that the likes of Archie Fisher, Stan Rogers or Gordon Bok could have written (and in fact have written, more than once). In this case, though, the composer is I. Sheldon Posen, who proves that he has no cause to apologize for encroaching on the territory. "Never No More," by Terry Tufts, is an old-fashioned folk-protest song, plainly but not shrilly stated and delivered.

Other cuts turn to personal matters -- love, memory, the passing landscape -- and treat them with intelligence, grace and maturity. The Lothrop/Garrett "On Your Way Home" affectingly evokes the wrenching fear one feels as one awaits the safe arrival of a loved one who is traveling through a storm. "That's How the Summer Slips Away," by Lucinda Chodan and Dave Clarke, is as lovely as its title would lead you to expect. On the other hand, the closing cut, country-pop singer Chris Hillman's "The Story of Love," is as inane as its title threatens. Surely Garrett and Lothrop could have chosen something less vapid as their bow-out moment. It's the one moment on this otherwise solid recording that good taste and good sense are nowhere in sight.

- Rambles
written by Jerome Clark
published 23 July 2005

Buy it from