Any reflection on 2017 is going to be tainted by the loss of Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie who lost his courageous battle against gliobastoma on October 27th. He knew his passing was inevitable, we all knew his passing was inevitable but it still came as a shock when he did succumb to his terminal brain tumor at the age of 53. Downie’s passing even brought Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau to tears on learning of his death.
Yet, to Downie’s credit he made constructive use of those final months. Working with Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew, Downie released a final solo recording, `Introduce Yourself’ which contained 23 highly personalized songs that were released shortly after his death.
Downie was awarded The Order Of Canada on June 19th, received a Juno Award as Best Songwriter in April (The Tragically Hip also won Group Of The Year and Best Rock Album awards) and the bravery he exhibited during that final Man Machine Poem national tour was captured in a documentary film “Long Time Running” that was premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and later aired nationally on CTV.
Unfortunately, Downie wasn’t Canadian music’s only rock music casualty in 2017. Streetheart lead vocalist Kenny Shields died from cardiac arrest July 21st in a Winnipeg hospital after becoming ill during a July 1st performance in Fort Saskatchewan. Shields, who had endured a history of heart ailments prior to his passing was 69 years old.
Former April Wine bassist Steve Lang succumbed to the effects of Parkinson’s Disease on February 4th at the age of 68 while former Lighthouse drummer/vocalist Skip Prokop passed away August 30th after being stricken by a heart attack at the age of 67.
On a brighter note, Shania Twain bounced back into the spotlight with her first studio album in 15 years, titled `Now’ which stormed straight to the top of the Billboard Top 200 charts and has already spawned two hit singles with “Life’s About To Get Good” and “Swingin with My Eyes Closed”.
The album, produced by Twain with four co-producers instead of ex husband Mutt Lange will be promoted in 2018 with a major tour that will hit 46 North American venues and 18 European. Canada will get 14 of those North American dates with two-concert stops in Vancouver, Edmonton, London and Toronto during the month of May.
Probably the big breakthroughs of the year were registered by Toronto’s Shawn Mendes, Brampton’s Alessia Cara and Bowmanville’s Meghan Patrick who all enjoyed banner years both touring and with radio exposure to current releases
Mendes established himself as a global performer with his third headline tour, a 60-date global joint which included sell-out dates at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre and New York’s Madison Square Garden.
A `Live At Madison Square Garden’ and his second studio release, `Illuminate’ provided plenty of radio fodder and earned him a musical spot on Saturday Night Live in December 2016. Watch for Mendes to make an impact at this year’s Grammy Awards.
Another Canuck who clocked an appearance on SNL was Alessia Cara who is still getting mileage out of her 2015 release `Know it All’ which earned platinum certification in the USA after reaching the one million sales mark. Cara has also been making a name for herself south of the border and has been nominated for four Grammy awards in 2018.
Music Express recognized her potential in 2016 by awarding her three ME Awards and Meghan Patrick was finally recognized by the Canadian Country Music Association who gave her Best Female Artist and Rising Star Artist awards at their annual presentation, last year staged in Saskatoon.
A major highlight for Patrick was touring nationally with Tom Cochrane and performing on stage with Keith Urban and Johnny Reid on the Canada Day finale at Timmins’ Stars And Thunder concert where before a sell-out crowd of 25,000 fans, she got to duet with Urban on “We Were Us”. Patrick will be releasing a new album, `Country Music Made Me Do It’ in January.
It was another great year for Canadian Country Music with the Road Hammers (fronted by Jason McCoy, Clayton Bellamy and Chris Byrne) winning Top Country Group honors at the CCMA’s while releasing their fifth studio album `The Squeeze’.
Vancouver bluegrass band, Washboard Union gained recognition by winning the CCMA’s Best Roots Album while still promoting their 2016 release `In My Bones’ and also packaged a tour with Brighton Ontario’s Cold Creek County, who controversially replaced lead vocalist Brandon Scott with new front man Ches Anthony before releasing a new EP title `Homemade’.
Dallas Smith, Brent Kissel, Dean Brody and Aaron Goodvin all had great years with Smith and Kissel headlining national tours, Smith selling out his appearance at the Molson Amphitheater in Toronto while Kissel (three) and both Smith and Brody (with two each) earned hardware at the CCMA’s. And Johnny Reid showed he’s about as far from Country as you can get with his brilliant Motown/Stax inspired `Revival’ release.
Country Music’s big break though band of the year was Toronto’s James Barker Band who registered a strong impression with their `Game On’ EP release. Although they didn’t win any of the five CCMA awards they were nominated for, the quartet of James Barker, Taylor Abram, Connor Stephen and Bobby Martin will definitely leave their marks this year.
The only setback for the industry came when Corus’s CMT network announced it was ending its Country Music television coverage – an odd decision considering how popular Country Music has become in Canada.
Nickelback (“Feed The Machine”), Big Wreck (“Grace Street”) and Theory Of A Deadman (“Wake Up Call”), all strove to disprove Kiss frontman Gene Simmonds’ claim that rock is dead by releasing top-selling albums and executing major tours on both sides of the border while lead vocalist Raine Maida reformed Our Lady Peace with a brand new four-man lineup to release a new EP “Somethingness Vol 1 with Vol 2 set for an early 2018 release.
Other mainstays like Hedley (Cageless), , Alan Doyle (A Week At The Warehouse), Barenaked Ladies (`Fake Nudes’)and Matthew Good (Something Like A Storm) all kept busy on the recording and touring front, while Montreal’s Arcade Fire registered a positive impression on the North American charts with their `Everything Now’ although their North American tour only stopped in Toronto and Montreal.
Aside from Twain, Patrick and Cara, other Canadian females enjoyed productive months in 2017. Valerie Ann Poxleitner, better known as Lights, turned her persona into a super hero with flaming red hair to match the cartoon comics she created as a concept for her “Skin & Earth release. Serena Ryder successfully released her sixth studio album, “Utopia” while Feist also received critical raves for her latest opus `Pleasure’.
Then of course there were the usual re-releases and greatest hits packages, the most noticeable coming from Rush (with a glorious 2112 repackage)), Neil Young kept finding old tapes in his basement(`Hitchhiker’), Max Webster packaged up The Party box set, Northern Pikes toured on the strength of a re-issue of `Big Blue Sky’ and Sass Jordan got into the act by totally re-recording “Racine”
Prominent new groups/artists to make an impression in 2017 were Toronto’s Ascot Royals, Edmonton’s Ruth B and A Scenic Road To Alaska, Toronto’s Fast Romantics, Calgary Country star JJ Shiplett and Montreal’s Jonathan Roy.
And finally, the chart-topping R&B/Hip Hop tandem of Drake, The Weeknd and Justin Bieber were still prominent in 2017 but Drake easily stole most of the glory with his “More Life” release proving to be an adept follow-up to his smash`Views’ recording. When he wasn’t courtside at The Toronto Raptors basketball games, Drake was out touring and collecting hardware (13 Billboard Awards!)
When The Weeknd and Justin Bieber weren’t fighting over who got to romance Selena Gomez, The Weeknd, (modelling a more stylist new hairdo) enjoyed No 1 Billboard status with his “Starboy” while The Beebs was quiet on the recording front except for joining forces with Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee to record “Despacito” – like THE big song of the summer with something like 15.3 million views.