John Wort Hannam,
Two Bit Suit
(independent, 2007)

Education's loss is our gain. Former teacher John Wort Hannam released his third CD in April of this year, and he is a shining example that the musical contributions of our neighbors to the north -- Fred Eaglesmith, James Keelaghan, the Brothers Rogers and others -- are continuing unabated.

In this effort, Hannam primarily portrays dreamers, those of the small "d". His musical world is populated with farmers, miners and truckers -- salt-of-the-earth types -- coming up short in scope and vision but certainly not effort. They see the love of a woman or possibly a move elsewhere to start anew and the like as their elusive saviour, while stubbornly putting one foot in front of the other in reach of their elusory goals.

Most fail, but then that's the backbone of the most compelling narratives.

There are no "skip over" cuts here. However, in a gun-to-the-head, pick-only-three songs exercise, the ones that resonated the most for me were "10,000 Acres," "Infantryman" and "At First Light."

The first portrays a rueful farmer enduring whatever it takes -- and that's a lot in this tune -- to keep his promise of keeping the family farm together even if it means a cleaving with the human love of his life. It begins: "Well I ain't a man of many words / At times, I have none / I know that there are smarter men / and many more handsome / But I take pride in what I've done / though it may not be grand...."

"Infantryman" plaintively depicts a father greeting his soldier son, arriving home in a casket. There's no politics here -- it's a straightforward presentation of the grief at losing a child.

With "At First Light," Hannam precisely draws all the elements together -- words, vocals, music and rhythm -- in a tangible portraiture of home and love, or what passes as such, as twin incentives in completing a journey. This is a cut that could easily be classified as spanning the folk, Americana and country genres.

In "Sweet Sweet Rose," Hannam leaves open the possibility of his protagonist securing love. The opening lines: "Well I've fallen behind and I've fallen thru / I've fallen to pieces a time or two / And I've fallen victim to words that weren't true / I've fallen from grace, now I've fallen for you...." In some ways, "Sweet Sweet Rose is counterpart to "Desperado," one of the famous offerings of the Eagles.

"Black As Coal" provides this matter-of-fact opening verse: "He had a heart of gold and silver hair / nerves of steel and an iron stare / but 30 years of mining takes it's toll / For a small town boy there ain't much in store / You do what your father did before / Light your lamp and down you go...."

Plus these classic lines from "National Hotel" absolutely require a mention. Regarding a hotel having seen better days and now shut down, Hannam sings of the clientele: "Deadbeats and dealers, debutantes and drunks / Poets, pimps, preachers, pretty boys and punks...."

It's shortchanging Hannam and overlooking the dues he surely paid along the way, but he comes off as a natural songwriter, someone who seemingly has little problem compiling verses and marrying them to music. Such is never easy but the most talented make it appear so.

Call the songs here blue-collar music -- working with one's hands but leading with the heart. Those populating the music are not the highly cultured and cultivated but hurt and bleed like anyone else, always with limited options. But call them extraordinary in their ordinariness.

Hannam matches his writing with vocals that are engaging -- a deep, inviting drawl. He has something to say and says it well.

This is a must-have CD based on this simple yet reliable test: the effort required in producing this review was nil. It wrote itself as if some sort of joyful dictation. The best music, like film, books and paintings, all do that for reviewers.

Two Bit Suit will shortchange no one.

[ visit the artist's website ]

review by
Kevin McCarthy

10 November 2007

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