Dan McKinnon,
Chasing Sunsets
(self-produced, 1995)

On this independently released album, Dan McKinnon displays a wealth of musical talents. His rich baritone voice seems made for the searching, often sentimental songs it contains. There are plenty of ballads on this recording, along with the odd faster-paced song to pick things up a bit. His style is somewhat reminiscent of folk legend Stan Rogers, and can easily be identified as East Coast folk music, with its themes of the sea and maritime life.

These themes are not surprising, given that McKinnon was born and raised in Nova Scotia, Canada. On Chasing Sunsets, McKinnon provides vocals, guitar and bass, and is joined by Tino Bonomo (fiddle, mandolin, accordion), Jon Goodman (Irish flute, whistles) and Marc Currie (bodhran).

I can't think of anything major that I don't like about this album. There are a couple odds and ends which are simply a matter of taste, I think. In "Mother Sea," the chorus is at a slightly different tempo than the rest of the song, which I find a little distracting, even though I like both parts. "Last Man to Fall" has a little accordion tune at the end of it, and although I like the tune, it just seemed a bit disjointed from the song.

As far as everything else goes, this recording is fantastic! McKinnon's guitar style is wonderful, and quite expressive, as is his voice. The arrangements and tunes to all of the songs blend well, and provide the perfect setting to McKinnon's powerful lyrics.

"The Woman with Stars in her Eyes" has a beautiful sentiment to it, and flute, fiddle and guitar mingle to provide a pleasant, flowing tune. "Mother Sea" is a showcase for McKinnon's expressive voice, while "Land of My Heart" features lovely flute and guitar playing to a rather nostalgic song about home.

"Mystery of Oak Island" is a more up-tempo tale of the mystery surrounding Nova Scotia's alleged buried treasure. This was one of my favorite childhood stories, and is well told by McKinnon, with a nice flute and fiddle introduction. "Nellie J. Banks" is another upbeat ditty about rum running during Prohibition, and is the only non-original song on the album. Mandolin, fiddle, guitar and bodhran combined for some fine instrumentals.

McKinnon has a talent for telling tales of life -- its challenges and its beauty -- in a poignant fashion which the audience can identify with. "Lakes of Bras D'Or" is a wistful tune, reminiscing about childhood days gone by. "Light of the Watchman" is a moving tribute to the lighthouse keepers who technology has made obsolete, while "Last Man to Fall" pays homage to those who fought in the first World War.

There aren't a large number of upbeat, cheery songs on the album, but McKinnon paints a vivid portrait of life with his words. This recording makes for good listening on a quiet afternoon, or perhaps curled up by the fireside on a cold winter day. McKinnon has a remarkable talent for vocal (as well as instrumental) expression, the tunes to his songs are catchy, and his lyrical abilities are outstanding. Even though I usually prefer zippy instrumental music to folk ballads, McKinnon has certainly won over my heart, and I look forward to hearing more from him.

[ by Cheryl Turner ]