various artists,
Stan Rogers --
A Matter of Heart:
The Musical Revue

(Fogarty's Cove, 2000)

Always on the lookout for anything having to do with Stan Rogers, I was surprised and happy to see the cast recording from Stan Rogers: A Matter of Heart, especially since 1999's From Coffee House to Concert Hall was the final release of his original material. This is the cast recording of a stage show which played to rave reviews in Southern Ontario in 1999-2000.

The storytelling for which Rogers is renowned makes his songs ideally suited for the stage. This time around, however, the producers of the show allowed the songs to be central, rather than relegating them to soundtrack status in a story of the artist's life, as has been the case in the past.

The cast of performers includes four voices and seven musicians -- and they still manage to hold onto the simplicity of Rogers' writing. Charlotte Moore's rich, full voice is not so out of place as are some female voices in singing Stan Rogers. In the end, it's all about the emotion, and she has plenty of it. Dan and Frank Mackay and Terry Hatty provide male vocals. The four voices blend together very well, doing justice to songs that were only meant to be sung by one.

The musicians add intricacy to the vocals: Bob Ashley (conductor and keyboards), Paul Mills (6- and 12-string guitars and banjo), Anne Lindsay (fiddle), Bob Hewus (acoustic and electric bass), John Adams (drums and percussion), Bobby Edwards (6-string guitar, electric guitar, mandolin) and Ron Korb (penny whistle and flute). Without the talent poured into the instruments, the songs and their messages would fall flat and be unimaginative interpretations. The highlight for me is Lindsay's playing. She's a diminutive powerhouse with that fiddle -- it cries and screams and sings and laughs in her hands.

All of Stan's most popular songs are included in the 18 tracks on this recording, from the never-released gem "Acadian Saturday Night" to the oft-covered "The Mary Ellen Carter." Some of the lyrics are changed -- most notably in "White Squall," when Moore tells the story of a young man washed away in a Great Lakes storm from the perspective of the girl he leaves behind. It is an interesting twist on the original song. Something as small as changing a few pronouns makes "Lock-keeper" a conversation between the two men. Some songs, like "Northwest Passage," are not as strong as they could be, but the power of stories like "The House of Orange," "MacDonnell on the Heights" and "Song of The Candle" overshadow those shortcomings.

There are also additions to some of the songs, such as the yells of "You're an idiot!" in "The Idiot" and an announcer's play-by-play commentary in the hockey-themed "Flying." I was slightly taken aback at first, but in the end, these additions make the recording more fun and give it spontaneity. The record closes with "The Mary Ellen Carter." It's fitting, I think, that the positive message of that song is the final note in a musical revue of Stan Rogers' writing. That, to me, is the greatest legacy he has left for those of us who have only the music to remember him -- to "rise again" regardless of the odds.

This is a good quality studio recording, and is fun to listen to, especially if you're already a fan of Rogers' music and are interested in hearing some fresh versions of his songs.

[ by Rachel Jagt ]

Buy A Matter of Heart from CDNow.