CD review: Tim Hus – Western Star
Finally, finally managed to get the new Tim Hus disc, Western Star.
Here’s the reason I like Tim: he’s nice. You know, if you’ve interviewed musicians, that they typically fall into one of two categories: 1) sullen and annoyed, offering one-word answers, tired of being interviewed; 2) all-too-eager to talk about themselves nonstop. Tim has conversations. He answers questions, then responds with some of his own. He seems to remember details about everyone he meets.
And meet many people he does; he’s now in his 10th year of touring across Canada, never slowing down. He goes to all the small towns and tiny venues on the way to bigger centres, eager to talk to folks wherever he ends up. Don’t confuse his eagerness with some yeehaw just trying to make friends; he’s a pretty hip guy.
He’s genuine and enthusiastic, and that comes through in his music. Western Star, his sixth album, is no exception.
It seemed appropriate that my first listen occurred when I was on the road traveling east through Kingston; the opening title track is a country road song in the voice of a trucker singing his own praises. Yeah, I thought from my bus seat, “I’m a diesel demon double-clutchin’/…white-line wrangler/ wheelin’ my wide load in my Western Star…” Imagine how actual truck drivers feel – Hus has a way of making the average job sound like it’s nothing short of super-hero accomplishment.
The aggrandizing of jobs so ordinary that many wouldn’t be aware of their existence continues in “Hardcore Apple Picker”. In the first verse, Hus takes listeners through a slew of apple varieties, leading others (such as grocery store cashiers who memorize the produce codes for all those suckers) to identify with the picker’s plight. He even throws a bit of summer love with a Quebecois girl to sweeten an already cute song.
In his usual style, Hus wants to tip his hat to all corners of Canada: B.C. in “Hardcore Apple Picker”, the East Coast in “Halifax Blues”, Saskatchewan in “Marietta Miner”, Alberta in “Wild Rose Waltz”; in other tunes, to all the hard jobs done by good men (and women): fishermen in “Master Caster”, truckers in “Western Star”, barrel racers in “Short Go Shuffle”. The album’s pinnacle is its actual midpoint: “Forgotten Sailor” slows the pace for a sombre reflection on the anonymity of both the occupation and of being so easily swallowed by the sea while at work.
Producer Harry Stinson (Ian Tyson, Matraca Berg, Corb Lund) was brought in for Western Star, and like all good ones, Stinson teases out the best in Hus without overwhelming the album with an obvious production stamp. “Forgotten Sailor” might be the best example of this, presuming Stinson had a hand in the arrangements: its sparse start builds anxiously through the song to a peak and is stripped away suddenly to emphasize the bleak ending. Similarly, little lyrical gems like the classic conflation of horses and girls in “Leanin’ on a split rail fence/ Thought that I might take a chance/ Threw a loop and wound up with a star” from “Short Go Shuffle” don’t drown in the mix. The album is pretty country overall, but with light arrangements that highlight the sharp playing of fiddlers Billy MacInnis and Hank Singer, steel players Kayton Roberts, Gary Carter, and Chris Scruggs, and Tim’s regular backup band.
Some people say that Hus is our generation’s Stompin’ Tom Connors. Others say he’s walking in line behind Corb Lund and Ian Tyson. Sure. He ain’t no copycat, though. And like the humble guy he is, he won’t let a conversation go by without acknowledging his predecessors, so if you like any of them, or Hus himself, do yourself a favour and pick this one up.