Folk Roots/Folk Branches with Mike Regenstreif

June 22, 2009

Rodney Brown is a veteran singer-songwriter from Thunder Bay who meticulously researches and finely crafts songs that tell stories mostly drawn from the history of northern Ontario.

Among the historical figures encountered on North Land are William McGillivray, for whom Brown's hometown of Fort William was named (Fort William was merged with Port Arthur to create Thunder Bay). In "I Followed You Down," Brown retraces McGillivray's early life, before he came to Canada, in Scotland and England. He follows that song with "McGillivray's Dream," a song based on Lord of the North West, Marjorie Wilkins Campbell's biography of McGillivray in which he sings in awe of McGillivray's early life and then admits to not being able to finish the later chapters dealing with the ultimate failure of the dream and of the evils committed by Lord Selkirk. In "What Would Susan Say?" Brown speculates about how Susan, McGillivray's wife, might have felt about the Cree woman who was McGillivray's country wife.

My first encounter-in-song with The Nancy, a fur trade schooner loaned to the British by the Northwest Company in the War of 1812, was in a Stan Rogers song called "The Nancy," in which Stan told the story of a victory engineered by the crew of The Nancy. Ultimately, though, as Brown relates in his liner notes, The Nancy was destroyed by her own crew rather than face defeat at the hands of Americans. His song, "Avenge The Nancy" tells how the crew of The Nancy gained their revenge.

My favourite track is "John Macdonell and Magdeleine Poitras," an infectious song that tells the story of a fur trader and his Métis wife and the majestic home they built on the Ottawa River.

There are several other fascinating stories in other songs on this fine album. Rodney's singing, the excellent arrangements featuring some of Canada's finest musicians, and Paul Mills' crystalline production, all serve the songs exceptionally well.