Ron Hynes,
Ron Hynes
(Borealis, 2006)

Besides being a guitarist and singer-songwriter with a career reaching back more than three decades, native Newfoundlander Ron Hynes is well regarded in Canada for his work in film and theater. Canada is thick with comparably talented artists whose names and accomplishments never make it south of the border to catch the attention of (United States of) Americans, too many of them only marginally aware of the admirable and interesting nation to their north. We American folkniks will have heard of Gordon Lightfoot, Ian Tyson and perhaps a handful of the younger roots-based bands such as Great Big Sea, the Wailin' Jennys and the Duhks. Worthy as they are, though, they are hardly the end of the story. Lately, courtesy in part of a package from Rambles.NET, I've been listening to Canadian folk-scene figures and hearing some good people whose paths I am only now experiencing the pleasure of crossing.

Though Canadian musicians tend to be a bit touchy when you mention the name, it is hard not to notice Lightfoot's influence on the folk-oriented singers of Hynes's generation. It is certainly apparent here in several ways -- all of them happily positive. Hynes shares Lightfoot's keen melodic sense and his brittle romanticism, and he also sounds like someone who -- in common with Lightfoot, who has often cited him as an early influence -- knows something of the recorded output of the late country-pop singer Don Gibson. Gibson wrote and sang gorgeous songs of romantic longing, setting them to unforgettable melodies that managed to hit every right -- by which I mean heart-breaking -- note, literal and figurative. Hynes is not a country singer any more than Lightfoot is (or, arguably, than Gibson was), but any singer-songwriter mentioned in the same breath as Gibson ought to consider himself seriously flattered.

If this were an old-fashioned LP, the first side would highlight the morose, romantic, Gibson-reminiscent stuff. These are the sorts of creations that bring the phrase "divorce songs" immediately to mind. The operatic "Where Does Love Go Wrong?" -- my favorite cut here, with lyrics and melody that will play on in your psychic jukebox -- gives the clear impression of a song you couldn't write out of merely abstract imagination. Of course I don't know, or care, much about Hynes's personal life, and it doesn't matter one way or another; it's just an exceptionally lovely song. On the other hand, he has been open about his struggles with alcohol and drug addiction, a subject dealt with bluntly in "Dry" and "My Name is Nobody," the latter resonating with the sound and sentiment of old ballads and hymns.

The second side of the imagined LP, and the second half of the song list here, consists -- mostly, not entirely -- of originals, performed live, that echo Newfoundland's rich Celtic and seagoing music traditions. Here, Hynes eases up on the dark-night-of-the-soul ruminations and exposes his sunny side. All around, in short, a solid and engaging recording.

[ visit the artist's website ]

review by
Jerome Clark

14 June 2008

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