by Roman Mitz, Open Spaces
This has been quite a year for fans of Canadian Country Music. Veteran performers like Dean Brody and transplanted Scot Johnny Reid continued to make their mark, with Brody taking the 2017 Canadian Country Music Association’s (CCMA) Fan Choice Award while Reid released a fine new soulful album called Revival. While it’s great to see that these mainstays are still on top of their game, it’s the new faces in country music that are really generating a lot of excitement within the country/roots genre beginning with one of Reid’s protégés, JJ Shiplett. Described as a cross between Bob Seger and Chris Stapleton, Shiplett knocked it out of the park with his debut album Something To Believe In, and he gives manager/mentor Reid a lot of credit. “I think that both of us connected on pretty even ground. We have different styles of music that we like but we both appreciate it the same way. We both really want to put our heart and soul into it because so much art out there is just manufactured”.
If you need more evidence of the impact of the new wave of Canadian country artists, you need not look further than this week’s radio airplay stats where four of the Top 10 most-played artists, Brett Kissel, Dallas Smith, The James Barker Band and Aaron Goodvin, are home grown. Smith, in particular, had a banner year releasing two more Number One singles, Sky Stays Blue, and the title track of his 2017 JUNO-Award nominated and CCMA Top Selling Album of the Year, Side Effects.
Another relatively new band that made a big splash in 2017 was The Washboard Union, the group that took home the Roots Artist of the Year Award at this year’s CCMA’s. Singer/guitarist Aaron Grain explains their recipe for success. “I think people were looking for something different and our timing was great. We’re cut from a different cloth because of the style of our music, and we hit popular radio at a time when country music’s fabric changed. There was a bit of a throwback to how country music used to sound before it became Bro-country. If we tried to do this now we might be looked at as being somewhat behind the boat. Had the switch not happened at the right time I don’t think we would have had the success that we did.”
The Road Hammers also continued their winning ways by scooping up Group of the Year honours at the 2017 CCMA’s, based largely upon their latest album The Squeeze, another great blend of classic rock and country. While Jason McCoy handled most of the vocals, Clayton Bellamy steps up to the microphone for their brand new single All Your Favorite Bands, a cover originally recorded by American band Dawes in 2015. The Road Hammers’ version of the song was recorded in one take. As the only ballad from The Squeeze, All Your Favorite Bands gives fans a chance to see a more intimate side of the
band and, as usual, it showcases their strong harmonies and rock-driven guitar sounds. “We perform All Your Favorite Bands in our live show and when we saw the reaction of the crowd, we knew our cover needed to be on the album,” says Bellamy. “Whether you’re a musician or a music fan, this song immediately connects with you on an emotional level. It quickly became one of our favourites.”
If we’re talking unusual moves, one of the more surprising changes to come out of left field this year was the replacement of Cold Creek County vocalist Brandon Scott with Ches Anthony. Anthony handled the vocals on the group’s 2017 release Homemade, but Scott was at the helm for their previous album ‘Till The Wheels Come Off’, which launched four singles into the Country Top 40 and led to them winning Top Group Honours at this year’s Country Music of Ontario Awards. Drummer Doug Oliver explains the rationale behind the change. “It was just creative differences, really. Brandon’s actually working on his own EP right now and we’re completely behind him. We love him but sometimes those things just happen and you have to move on. We have Ches on lead vocals and he’s a great guy. He kind of just came into this and now he’s been thrown to the wolves.”
Jess Moskaluke continued her impressive run in terms of snatching awards, this year picking up the JUNO Award for Country Album of the Year for Kiss Me Quiet (Yes, she beat out all the boys). Despite all of the accolades, it doesn’t get old for Jess and her head still seems to be spinning somewhat. “Everything has happened so quickly; it has been a wild few years. I am so proud to be part of the country music industry. We support and celebrate each other, and I am thrilled to be a member of the Canadian community and this genre.”
We leave the best for the last, however, in the form of the pride of Bowmanville, Ontario, Meghan Patrick. It’s been a banner year for Meghan in terms of radio play, live shows and awards ceremonies. Her debut album Grace and Grit, continued to sprout Top 20 singles and in concert she performed with superstars like Dwight Yoakam and Martina McBride, peaking with a show-stopping duet with Keith Urban at the Timmins Stars & Thunder Festival. She topped things off by winning Female Performer of the Year and Sirius XM Rising Star awards at the 2017 Canadian Country Music Awards. It seems that every generation has produced a country super star from Canada. In the 1970’s it was Anne Murray and in the 90’s it was Shania Twain. With the release of her new album Country Music Made Me Do It Meghan Patrick is poised to become the latest country force to emerge from the True North.
All the best for the season and a very Happy New Year from Open Spaces.