Stan Rogers,
(Fogarty's Cove, 1978; Borealis, 2012)

There is such majestic poetry in the lyrics of "Bluenose," it's hard not to see the ship come to life before your eyes.

Sure, most songs use some form of rhyme scheme in their words. But the line between lyrics and poetry is usually pretty clear -- and, even though I've heard poems set to music to good effect, I never confused them with songs.

But then there's Stan Rogers' "Bluenose," a song that captures the ship's glory with a poet's eye for detail and a working seaman's knowledge of sailing.

Feel her bow rise free of Mother Sea
In a sunburst cloud of spray
That stings the cheek while the rigging will speak
Of sea-miles gone away.
She is always best under full press,
Hard over as she'll lay ...
Who will know the Bluenose in the sun?

Rogers, taken from the world too young, was a master songwriter who steeped his narrative songs with clear imagery. Much has been written about him, and certainly his music continues to live and thrive in his absence.

I'm thrilled to see his work being reissued by Borealis; not only is it vital to keep the music out there, so new generations can be introduced to his work, but the collection has been digitally remastered to keep the music fresh. And yes, it sounds great.

Turnaround, Rogers' second release, is one of two albums reissued by Borealis this past summer, along with Between the Breaks ... Live, a concert album recorded in Toronto in 1978.

Besides "Bluenose," Turnaround includes "The Jeannie C.," a heartbreaking song about a fishing boat that goes down after a successful cod run -- it's one of my favorites on the album, although one wonders how the fisherman and his son made it home afterwards, or why poor John Price, who "give a cry and pitched overside," wasn't lamented half so much as that luckless boat.

The album is dominated by Rogers originals, including "So Blue," "Front Runner," "Try Like the Devil" and the title track, "Turnaround." "Second Effort" details a young man's broken hopes for fortune in another town, while "Song of the Candle" speaks of the singer's quest for meaning.

There's also the traditional song, "Oh No, Not I," which stands as a cautionary tale to girls who hautily reject their suitors ... and then need them again some nine months later, and Archie Fisher's "Dark Eyed Molly."

Largely folk, strongly inflected by Canada's East Coast influence, Turnaround touches on country-western and gospel styles, too. It's moving music that rises above simple labels and touches Canada's heart. All in all, this album is a timeless testament to Stan Rogers' vision and the power of his singing and songwriting craft.

music review by
Tom Knapp

15 December 2012

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