New Coast music, from traditional folk to contemporary

Among recent releases by Sunshine Coast musicians are two works that offer up some interesting tunes from quite different musical traditions. 

End of the Road 

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Roberts Creek singer and songwriter Grant Olsen’s lockdown project was to finish his latest album, End of the Road, offering a generous 14 tunes in the (mostly) acoustic guitar, folk-singing tradition. Olsen acknowledges influences like Bob Dylan and Neil Young. Some listeners will also be reminded of Gordon Lightfoot, and certainly John Prine. 

The album’s title is a double entendre. The past 10 months have been the “end of the road,” at least temporarily, for the Coast’s musicians whose live, paid performances have dried up. “I went from a steady 10 to 15 gigs a month to nothing,” Olsen said in an interview. “And I don’t know if it’s coming back.” 

The title also refers to the fate of some of the colourful personalities that populate his songs, people whose paths did not go according to their loosely made plans. “I wrote about characters – some real and some imagined – who dove into the absurdities of existence,” Olsen wrote on his website. Characters who “allowed their sense of freedom and entitlement to mingle with their most irresponsible instincts.” 

Songs like These Roads Go Nowhere, Whisky and Tap Water, and Poor Michael John are in that vein. But Olsen’s upbeat rhythms get us tapping our toes even to the darker tales. Other tunes, like The Day I Met My Love, Sister the Moon, and Fall Awake are likewise danceable, but you’ll be wearing a smile. Meanwhile, the waltzing Sanctuary provides much more than you could ever hope for from a two-chord tune. 

The songs are well-crafted with Olsen’s ringing acoustic often pleasingly big in the mix. Lockdown-style, he plays almost all instruments himself, including guitars, bass, mandolin, banjo, and harmonica. Pamela Messner adds background vocals and Fraser Blackley’s percussions can be heard on three of the tracks. 

Olsen plans to press some CDs (once the paying gigs return), but meanwhile, End of the Road is available for download from links at grantolsen.ca. 

Two Michaels 

Pender Harbour singer/pianist Patricia Burnett, known locally for her Carole King tribute show, has posted a lament for two Canadian men caught up in a story of international intrigue. 

The song, Two Michaels, pleads the case of aid worker and former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor, who were arrested in China in December 2018 and charged with violating China’s laws regarding state secrets. Their detention is widely seen as an act of “hostage diplomacy” in retaliation for the arrest in Vancouver of Meng Wanzhou, of the Chinese telecommunications giant, Huawei. Meng is wanted by the U.S. for alleged commercial crimes and is under house arrest at a west-side mansion while fighting extradition. 

“I heard the story when it started back in 2018 and thought, ‘Oh, that will all be over soon,’” Burnett told Coast Reporter. “In the weeks and months that followed, I learned more about their daily lives,” Burnett added, noting their circumstances are in stark contrast to Meng’s. “They’re in solitary, with the lights on 24/7, no books to read unless they could read Chinese, poor food, and basically no visitors.” 

Burnett said she “vented my emotions and penned a song for them,” which she released this month – the two-year anniversary of the Canadians’ detention. The piano-driven tune, delivered in Burnett’s big voice and torch-song style, also features violin accompaniment by Coast virtuoso Serena Eades, who brings some subtle Chinese pentatonic notes to the mix. You can find Two Michaels on YouTube. Just type Patricia Burnett in the search bar.

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