Lost Record of the Week: Dave McCann and the Ten-Toed Frogs, Shoot the Horse
Dave McCann was among a group of musicians that I interviewed over the course of the last decade for my dissertation on roots music in Calgary, Alberta. He was a great interviewee and always kept me updated with new recordings. I have to admit, however, that after a couple years of listening to the same group of singers so often for my analysis chapter that I could remember every bit of the songs in my sleep, I had to take a break from Calgarian music. So it is for this reason that Shoot the Horse slipped by me. I knew one song from it well, but hadn’t given the rest of the album a good listen.
Now that I have recovered from the trauma that writing a dissertation induces, it’s time to start listening to the latest music from the city. Shoot the Horse is a collection of McCann’s songs performed live at the ‘historic’ Sidetrack Cafe in Edmonton, Alberta. The Sidetrack, a club housed in a train car near the city’s centre, was among the most supportive venues for roots music in Alberta. In 2006, it was demolished to make room for a condo development, but it lost good business after delays in the move and finally shut its doors in 2007, 26 years after it opened.
McCann’s music is a blend of country, folk, and rock, and Shoot the Horse in particular makes plain his predilection for hard rock. With a solid backing band, McCann is able to turn his laidback tunes into driving jams. The album opens with “Tinsel Town,” a cheery warm-up for the crowd about missing a sweetheart, and the two songs that follow, “Road to Cain” and “Her Tongue Is Not For Sale,” keep up the energy. On “Circle of Stones,” the band takes an acoustic turn, allowing McCann’s wide-ranging voice and storytelling skills to emerge.
He has an aptitude for metaphor, invoking the western landscape and the weather when no other words can describe his feelings. The songs can make you feel like you’re wandering alone on a vast prairie searching for the reasons behind seemingly irrational events, and yet they’re drowning in distortion and thick textures, suggesting busyness and chaos.
One of my favourites, “Grain Car,” is rich with drippy pedal steel, and the album closes with two amped-up numbers, a cover of Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath,” and McCann’s own “The Day Leroy Quit His Drinking.” Both are in a forceful southern rock vein, complete with winding electric guitar solos and extended jams.
McCann is from Peterborough, Ontario, but headed west in the 90s and ended up staying in Calgary thanks to its proximity to spectacular landscapes and its community of musicians. He became a prominent member of the Calgary roots scene, playing regularly at venues like Vern’s and the Ironwood, but has recently moved to Lethbridge, Alberta, where he joined an equally thriving music community. His latest record, Dixiebluebird, was recorded in Nashville with legendary producer Will Kimbrough.
Some of the best Albertan/BC (British Columbian?) players are backing McCann on this album: Charlie Hase, McCann’s long-running pedal steel player, provides the nice little country licks that keep the album from veering too far into rock; Dave Bauer, a favourite sessional among the Calgary players is on guitar and backing vocals; Tim Williams is on drums, and Pete Loughlin adds nice harmony to the vocals while playing the booming bass that shakes up the record.
McCann is in Toronto this week, playing shows at the Cameron House and Dakota Tavern, two of the city’s best rooms for live music. Here’s his list of shows, but you can also check out his website, http://www.davemccann.com
MARCH/28/11/ The Cameron House
MARCH/30/11/ The Press Club
APRIL/01/11/ The Dakota Tavern
APRIL/02/11/ Not My Dog
APRIL/04/11/ The Cameron House