If you’ve never heard of Dave McCann you are not alone. He should be famous, the problem is, he cares little about, fame or the rad stage veneer so essential to catching light and thriving in today’s music world. He’s pushed it all aside to work on songs, well honed songs.
His newest effort “Westbound ’til Light” is no exception. An unyielding collection of songs, story songs, train songs, disaster songs and message songs all informed by some aspect of North American folklore. Definitive roots music, steeped in Dave’s unique vision and story based narrative. It features the new and longtime members of Dave’s band the Firehearts, solo captures as well as contributions by Peterborough Ontario’s Mayhemingways. “The union with Josh Fewings (drums, percussion) and Benj Rowland (banjo, tenor guitar, accordion) of the Mayhemingways was incredibly intuitive, it felt familiar right out of the gate. I have that same musical connection with longtime friend, guitar mentor and band mate Dave Bauer (guitar, bouzouki, mandolin). The magic came full circle once we added bass player Shawn Worden, harmonica ace Ethan Askey, and Canmore, Alberta, singer songwriter, Lori Reid on background vocals to the mix. It felt good to switch gears from the last few recordings and return to my earlier acoustic roots. It’s hard to find that sometimes without feeling like you are working backwards, but I think we really pushed these songs til we captured something truly magnetic.” says McCann.
“Swing Your Lantern” is another standout. A narrative about hobos caught in a Lake Superior Blizzard at the tail end of the Great Depression. “By the 1940’s the Iron Mines of the Mesabi Iron Range in Minnesota were running full tilt to build enough steel for the war effort. America was about to join the fight to end fascism in Europe. At the time, the Depression made the search for work a competitive venture and for many included desperate travel, starvation and defiance against all odds. Not everyone made it. Seeking better times down the line forced some to surrender to the Westbound ride that never ends. I have been haunted by the mythology of the Great American hobo ever since I read the last paragraph in Woody Guthrie’s book Bound for Glory. Sometimes the past whispers inspiration, you have to dig backwards. Our times make it so easy to lose touch with the hardships that earlier generations endured for all we enjoy today.” adds McCann.
Johannah’s Line is another strong story song on the album. It’s based on the History of one of Canada’s largest un-resolved murders. In 1880 Jim and Johannah Donnelly and members of their family were murdered and burned in their Lucan Ontario Farmhouse by an armed mob of neighbours. No one was ever held accountable for the crime. They became known as the Black Donnellys. “My father’s Dad was born in Lucan and the history feels close to home. I can remember my dad telling me the story when I was a kid. Jim Donnelly killed a man in self defence and was sent to prison for seven years. I took the perspective of his wife Johannah, left as a single mother trying to raise her boys and a daughter in a pocket of iron-fisted, feud ridden, religious, old world Irish culture that Lucan was at the time. Brutal times in the Dominion, and brutality always seems to be the evident end result of ignorance fuelled by suspicion, hatred and religiously charged polarization.” states McCann.
The final track on the recording is a hopeful road hymn aptly titled “Ain’t No Highway Can Hold Me”. It trails off with the resistive line “I will not falter, I will not head their ways, before she came to take my reigns, I was lost to stray.” Overall “Westbound ’til Light” proves to be a captivating record. The musical collaboration is strong, the songs have substance and it is clear to see Dave McCann is advancing his creative capacity to recount the world with inspired interest. The songs are heavy and swirling with an unspoken darkness but they are marked with hope. History shows us, that with hope we can move through the darkness to lighter times. It takes patience and it’s hard work, not unlike well honed songs.