Sketches: O Canada

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It’s Canada Day today, where Canadians across the world celebrate the unification of three colonies into the nation we know today as Canada, back on July 1, 1867. Although I’m not a Canadian myself, I’ve always been fascinated with, as they say, our “neighbors to the north,” and over the years I’ve gathered a few Canadian friends as well, which means I always like to commemorate the day in some fashion.

One way I usually celebrate a day such as this is theme listening, something I love to do. (You know exactly what I’ll be listening to this Saturday for the Fourth of July…) I’m listening to primarily Canada-based music today, and that got me thinking about Canadian music in general, its impact on me, and why I love it so much. There are many countries aside from the U.S. whose musical output is notable (if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may have noticed my particular passion for UK artists), but it’s long seemed to me that Canadian music has something truly special going for it.

Part of that might be personal. Looking back, Canadian artists have played some key roles in my growth as a music fan (and later on, as a musician). Growing up listening to country, I have countless childhood memories of playing Shania Twain songs. She was an institution in our house for a while, and I in particular became a huge fan of hers. If you can wear out CDs, I certainly wore out her last album, “Up!,” back in 2002, playing it so many times I probably had it memorized. (I’m excited that she’s finally gearing up to get a new album out, after nearly 15 years we’ve had to wait. I’d love to see her on her tour this summer, too, but you can’t have everything…) On the other end of the musical spectrum, the very first jazz song I remember hearing and loving was Diana Krall’s version of the Peggy Lee gem “I Don’t Know Enough About You,” way back in 3rd grade music class:

And of course, there’s Joni Mitchell. If I recall correctly, I actually first heard of her via her 2000 orchestral covers album, “Both Sides Now.” I heard her version of the standard “Sometimes I’m Happy” from that record on our local jazz station in about 2007 or so, loved it, checked out the rest of that album, and then, in a bit of a backwards fashion, fell in love with much more of her incredible catalog, including the seminal 1971 album “Blue.” I would be lying if I said she hasn’t had a profound impact on my musical journey. Her music has inspired me in many ways.

The list of Canadians whose music and artistry I’ve grown to love and appreciate is quite a long one. Jazz/pop phenom Nikki Yanofsky. (She memorably performed “O Canada” at the 2010 Olympics opening ceremony, and I recall my roommates thinking I was crazy for getting so excited about the Canadian anthem. I still listen to it today.) Legendary band Rush. Rufus Wainwright. Sarah McLachlan. Neil Young and Leonard Cohen, whose music I admittedly know best from outstanding covers of their songs. The incomparable voice of k.d. lang. (She paid tribute specifically to her home country in the exquisite covers collection “Hymns of the 49th Parallel,” which consists entirely of songs by Canadian songwriters.) Michael Buble. Laila Biali. Feist. Metric. Dan Mangan. Tegan & Sara. Ron Sexsmith. Arcade Fire (half-American, but still). The New Pornographers. And yes, even a bit of Nelly Furtado and Celine Dion in there somewhere.

I’m sure I’ve probably forgotten a few, and once in a while, I find a new Canadian artist to savor. For example, I had a Canadian roommate last fall, and he introduced me to some great stuff by Stars, an indie band originally from Toronto, as well as the solo work of frequent Arcade Fire collaborator Owen Pallett (formerly known as Final Fantasy). I also recognize that not all Canadian music is created equal…I mean, there’s Justin you-know-who and Drake, for starters. (I’m still not sure how I feel about Carly Rae Jepsen, though. “Call Me Maybe” is just so darn catchy.)

That said…I’m incredibly grateful for Canada and its outstanding musical contributions to the world, contributions that keep on going. I highly recommend you celebrate Canada Day by listening to some of your favorite Canadian artists (you know there’s at least one you love, even if it is Bieber), and once more, for all of you Canadians out there, Happy Canada Day. Keep up the good work. To close, you can’t go wrong with that rendition of “O Canada” that I told you about:

May God ever keep your land…and all of our lands, really…glorious and free. Thanks, Canada, for the music.

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