The Grievous Angels,
Waiting for the Cage
(jimmy boyle, 1996)

The Grievous Angels tell the stories of the working people in the hard rock-mining communities of Northern Ontario, and nowhere do they do this better than in this classic 1996 recording.

The Angels' lead singer, songwriter and guitarist Charlie Angus is one of Canada's great troubadours. His folk-rock portrayal of the mining families of Timmins, Kirkland Lake and Sudbury, Ont., is poignant. The songs are gritty, at times harsh and certainly emotional. Angus, who also publishes Highgrader Magazine, knows these stories well.

Waiting for the Cage was planned as the score for a radio documentary about a 1941 miners' strike. But it became an ode to the northern communities themselves, and to the people. Mining is the lifeline but also the curse for these folks. One miner's advice to his son in "White Fingers" is unforgettable: "Remember these hands / white as death from the jackleg drill / from crushing ore to feed the mills / wherever you go / remember these hands." The emotion in this song is leavened by the following instrumental, "De Miner Reel," where fiddler Peter Jellard and bassist Tim Hadley (who also gigs with Stompin' Tom Connors) excel.

However, it is Angus who is the storyteller and the focus here is on his songs. Johnny Mac dies of industrial disease. Bill Barilko escapes the mines to become a hockey star, the toast of Canada, but is lost in an airplane accident.

Scott Merritt's production style is unmistakable. In "War Down Below," Angus's electric guitar sounds like a massive drill or saw as it grinds out the chords and his voice is raw. "We are soldiers / in the war down below / we fight every day for / nickel, copper and gold." "Thunderbird Town" continues in a similar vein, with Jellard on blues harp. But on "Having to Say Goodbye," he sounds a bit like a Neil Young circa Harvest, and sings the lyric: "We're off to the Nickel City, where we'll work and organize / we'll think of you in the years to come / and remember the times we cried."

On "Rouyn," Angus closed the album with a fine country-rock anthem about boys getting into trouble in a border town. He plays a mean electric guitar while Hadley's standup bass rumbles underneath and Jellard provides colour on the accordion.

Throughout the CD, Angus, Jellard and Hadley are joined by drummer Peter Duffin, who knows the right balance between light and heavy, while keyboardist Rick Conroy provides texture on a record that is more than the sum of its songs, a tribute to Merritt's strong work.

Charlie Angus is a songwriter in the tradition of Stan Rogers and Tom Connors. And Waiting for the Cage does for the hard rock communities of Northern Ontario what Rogers did for Nova Scotia with Fogarty's Cove. It's a much grittier and harder-edged picture than Rogers ever painted; like Rogers, he is more serious than Connors in his approach. This CD is a find -- a Canadian classic.

Note: At time of writing, Charlie Angus is headed to Ottawa to represent the Timmins area as a social democratic (NDP) Member of Parliament. He says he is bringing his guitar.

- Rambles
written by David Cox
published 2 October 2004

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