Len Osland,
Salty Fingers
(self-produced, 1997)

There is a distinct character to the original music that comes out of Canada's north. In the music of Len Osland, raised in northern Manitoba and now resident in the Yukon, can be heard sounds similar to those of Kashtin, Night Sun and other northern artists. This is a music that seems to incorporate the folk sounds of northern Europe with the rhythms of Canada's native peoples.

What stands out about Len Osland, though, is the sense that he is a storyteller as much as a singer/composer, and that the songs are just one medium through which he speaks. Osland's tunes, while not recognizable as specific old favourites, have a distinctly traditional feel and simplicity to them. While some of the arrangements are interesting, where the music is most powerful is where it serves to underscore the story being told.

Here are simple stories, often personal but always with universal appeal, best told over sparse guitar or emphasized by drumming that wavers somewhere between Innuit and Irish. At times, Osland sounds like Lou Reed (parts of "Casey") or Charlie Daniels (parts of "50 Below in the Hollow"), or his writing is reminiscent of Robert W. Service, but most often his voice is distinctly his own.

Put together by Osland and a group of his friends calling themselves The Lapstrakes, the variety of arrangements in this recording is eclectic and intriguing. Spoken word and sung lyrics over minimal instrumentation shine as facets of Osland's presentation. Fuller arrangements include such elements as a Hammond B-3 organ (favourite of rockers everywhere!), bazouki, mandolin, fiddle, accordion, and a wide variety of drums and percussion.

Stylistically, while clearly in the folk genre, the songs on this release cover a gamut from spoken word through jazz, pop and near-rock elements.

Backup and harmony vocals may seem a good idea and, in this case, sometimes do work well. However, because they tend to be either too little or too much, these supporting vocals more often are intrusive and detract from Osland's story. Most effective is Keely Osland's spoken word ("Eagle Plain") and and Brenda Lee Katrenchuk's backup vocal support of Osland's singing.

It is always interesting to see a music CD released with printed lyrics, especially when the songs are the artist's original work. Reading the poetry and seeing how the words break up on the page adds a dimension to the work which can greatly enhance the understanding and pleasure of the listener/reader.

This release is quirky enough that it may not get a lot of airplay and most likely will not become a top-40 hit. On the other hand, Osland's music should be right at home on the specialty programs of the CBC and college stations across the country. It is an interesting and quietly enjoyable example of the music coming out of Canada's north at the end of the millennium.

[ by Bob MacKenzie ]
Sound Bytes ]

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