David Newland,
(self-produced, 2003)

Toronto-based singer-songwriter David Newland has a pleasant surprise in store for people who pick up his new live recording, Evergreen. Recorded by good friend Aengus Finnan in a former church hall in Margaretsville, Nova Scotia, Evergreen has a very welcoming atmosphere; the warmth of Newland's voice, as well as his ease in presenting his songs to an audience and his obvious passion for those songs, drew me in and really made me listen to the words.

It is the sense of honesty that sets these songs apart -- he draws stories from his own life, as well as from places that have touched him, and draws a kind of map with every song -- not only of places but of people and time as well.

Throughout Evergreen, the vocals are the focus, with only acoustic guitar and harmonica accompaniment (and a little bit of whistling on "Carry Me Away"). Newland's voice is equal parts rough around the edges and deeply expressive. There is nothing getting in the way of the meaning of the words or the power of his voice -- one of the things I truly love about live acoustic music.

Although he has traveled all over the world, from a bamboo hut in Costa Rica and the heights of the Rocky Mountains to the Fiji Islands and the hippie trail in India, Newland's roots are Canadian, both in Nova Scotia and Ontario. He was born in Ottawa and grew up in north-central Ontario, near the rocky shores of Georgian Bay. He celebrates his Nova Scotian heritage here, recording stories of struggle and triumph, hardship and loss. As Newland points out, the nature of the history of Nova Scotia lends itself well to folk music and songwriting.

"Heaven Only Knows," "Peddlin' Poppies" and "Back in Forest Glade" are poignant tributes to the lives of men growing older and looking back on their lives. These songs will have resonance for anyone familiar with traditions of oral history; Newland has listened to these men and now speaks with their voices. He is able to take on the voices of men much older than himself very effectively.

Mining is also an important part of the history and culture of Nova Scotia. In "When the Whistle Blows," Newland deals with what happens when a man's livelihood is taken away from him: "I had a young man's dreams/but today it seems/those dreams will all be broken by a lonesome sound ... said she'd never close/but everybody knows/it's time to leave the mine when the whistle blows."

He has also included a few songs of "love gone wrong" and "love gone badly wrong." It isn't all tragic, though, in songs like "Handle of Your Heart" and "Here to Stay." I am sometimes wary of "love songs," if only because it's rare to hear one that has any kind of originality to it. That's not a problem here.

"From the Chair to the Door," a tribute to a heroic uncle wounded during World War II, shows Newland's sensitivity not only to history and historical context, but also to the effect that our loved ones can have on our lives, mostly when we're not even paying attention.

If I had to pick a favourite track (and it isn't easy), "Faded Photograph" would be it. It is another love song -- but it looks at lost love in a quirky way: "It's just like you to walk away and sever every tie/Would it make you glad to know you make me cry? ... You ask me why I never write/You feel so far apart/Would it make me glad to know I stole your heart?" He looks at this relationship as a communication between two people who are trying to define where they stand in its aftermath and follows them through the regret, laughter and missed opportunities that should be familiar to anyone who's ever been in a relationship that has ended.

If I had to pick one word to describe Evergreen and David Newland's songwriting, it would be "honest." That word, that concept, keeps coming back to my mind as I listen to these 11 songs over and over again. I truly hope that there are many more records full of songs to be sung and recorded and that he continues to hone his songwriting skills. I get the impression from the songs on Evergreen that he's the kind of writer who follows where his passion leads, which is really what it's all about. I look forward to hearing all those songs that I have a feeling are already written, waiting to be brought to life.

- Rambles
written by Rachel Jagt
published 29 March 2003

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