CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 1 . . . . September 1, 2006
Sylvia Plath said that the poet must become an excellent packer of suitcases. With that dictum in mind, Canadian singer/songwriter Mike Ford has crammed a steamer trunk full of pre-1900 Canadian history into his Canada Needs You album.
Ford used to be in Canadian band Moxy Fruvous which followed the early trajectory of the Bare Naked Ladies (wonderful five song demo followed by a highly produced major label debut) before veering off in its own direction. Now Ford is doing solo work and writing historical songs that might well accompany Will Ferguson's glib but fun Canadian History for Dummies.
Unlike some Canadian balladeers, such as Michael Mitchell (whose style blends Gordon Lightfoot with Stan Rogers), Mike Ford offers a wealth of stylistic diversions on his album. From the vaudevillian "Canada Needs You" through the kid-friendly punkish chant of "Sir John A.,You're OK" to the Scottish rebel song "Turn Them Ooot", Ford ensures he changes genre with almost every song. When this approach works, it helps keep the album brisk and entertaining; however the stylistic fiddling can also be a distraction. The partly-rapped opener, "I'm Gonna Roam," starts the album off on weak note since it's a slow groove and Ford isn't a terribly convincing rapper. It is followed by "Thanadelthur," a mournful ballad about a Dene teenager. Taken together, these songs are not exactly a one-two punch opening and may turn off some of the potential audience.
Canada Needs You was a Juno nominee for best Children's album in 2005. With its occasional potty humour and wild bursts of energy, Ford's album is a good fit for middle school students, unlike compatriots The Arrogant Worms or Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie ("The War of 1812 Song") whose songs are more appropriate for older students.
A few of Ford's songs do strain under the weight of the historical content, a fault that often accompanies such pedagogical projects (for example, the 1967 Centennial souvenir LP by a Canadian country legend called Dick Damron Sings. Canadiana). Such historical cramming results in lyrics that occasionally read like overhead notes, as in "Louis and Gabriel": "Gabriel Dumont–a Saskatchewan Metis hero of the great northwest. As a marksman, hunter (gambler) or rider, he was always the best and he spoke several Native languages and was a gracious, generous friend.“ For a stomping song on the same subject be sure to check out British garage rocker Billy Childish's, "Louis Riel."
Happily, however, with songs like "Les Voyageurs", "Canada Needs You" and "I've Been Everywhere," Ford seems to hit his stride. These songs will surely rock when performed for a room full of rowdy kids strung out on pixie sticks. In these numbers, his rhyming skills, manic strumming and indefatigable spunk coalesce. It helps to include a great song popularized by Hank Snow and the mighty Johnny Cash to end the album. Ford's all-Canadian re-write of the lyrics to "I've Been Everywhere" pays tribute to Canadian Country legends like Stompin' Tom as well as our own wild geography. Any middle school student who doesn't enjoy these songs has no pulse
Jeff Nielsen, who teaches high school history in Lorette, MB, owns far too many albums for comfort.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.