Linda McRae – Out of the west, into the country
Those who know Linda McRae from her eight-year tenure with Canada’s Spirit Of The West may be in for a bit of a surprise from her solo debut, Flying Jenny. Where Spirit took her from Celtic music to rock to orchestral pop (racking up two platinum albums and one gold in Canada), McRae’s debut is decisively country, from her deep gritty vocals to her cover of the Louvin Brothers’ “When I Stop Dreaming”.
For McRae, however, the jump was actually a pretty small step. “I was bottle-fed on the stuff!” she says with a laugh. “My parents were big country fans. There were always some people in the house playing music — pedal steels, double basses, banjos and fiddles….[My parents] would go out to dances and got to know the musicians. They’d all end up at our house every weekend playing music. They’d drag me up and get me to sing some old country song when I was 12 years old.”
What’s most remarkable about Flying Jenny is its intimacy, which can be attributed to McRae’s extremely personal songwriting and powerful vocals, as well as the roster of close friends who joined her in the studio (23 musicians in 17 days). The songs range from the hook-filled rocker “Map” to the appropriately sentimental balled “Time” (a song that could only be written from mother to daughter) to “Road To Nowhere”, a desperate plea to a friend hooked on smack that’s hauntingly underscored with droning guitars. From beginning to end, this album says family — both the family we’re born with and the one we build.
The album’s title track is a fitting tribute to her influences. Not only is it the story of Ira and Charlie Louvin (who played their first gig in the middle of a mule-pulled merry-go-round called a Flying Jenny), but she confesses that it was written in the style of another of her heroes, Marty Robbins.
While the guest musicians on the album include members of Blue Rodeo, The Tragically Hip, The Band and Syd Straw (who serves as McRae’s singing partner on the majority of the disc), the most important guest for McRae was her 27-year-old daughter, Pam Humphries, who sings with her on a couple of tracks.
“Pam came in to listen to one of her tracks — her first track,” McRae remembers. “I turned around and looked at her and she had tears coming down her face; then I started crying and [producer] Colin [Linden] turns around and sees us both bawling. It was just an amazing experience. It was really great for both of us.”