On my ballot for this year’s Polaris Prize

Saskatoon’s Tim Vaughn takes over The Vat’s stage tonight and tomorrow. This nu-jazz and blues guitarist — and oddly-appealing vocalist — is on a brief Alberta swing promoting his debut disc, Two Tone Blue.

Saskatoon’s Tim Vaughn takes over The Vat’s stage tonight and tomorrow. This nu-jazz and blues guitarist — and oddly-appealing vocalist — is on a brief Alberta swing promoting his debut disc, Two Tone Blue.

Frequent visitors to our city, The Dana Wylie Band return from the UK to play The Matchbox Theatre on June 12. On June 20 the CKUA songwriter contingent of Andy Donnelly, Lionel Rault, and Jon Randell appear at the Matchbox; tickets at the theatre.

Edmonton’s Queen of the Swamp Blues, Kat Danser is on her own at the Velvet Olive Lounge June 19.

The annual Central Music Festival August 14 and 15 features local and western Canadian acts.

The well-rounded festival includes, among others, Gordie Tentrees, Steve Coffey & the Lokels, Crystal Plamondon, Honeyboy Edwards, and Ndidi Onikwulu. Details at centralmusicfest.com, with tickets at the Black Knight Inn outlet and Valhalla Pure Outfitters.

The big city fests have also released their lineups. Both the Calgary and Edmonton Folk Music Festivals feature Steven Page, Arrested Development, Iron & Wine, and Dick Gaughan.

Among those appearing in Calgary July 23-26 are Dry Branch Fire Squad, Alejandro Escovedo, Ray Wylie Hubbard, The Mekons, The Deep Dark Woods, Mavis Staples, and Lee Harvey Osmond; complete lineup and details at calgaryfolkfest.com.

Roots Music favourites including Rodney Crowell, Slaid Cleaves, Tift Merritt, Steve Earle, Sam Baker, and The SteelDrivers, as well as Boz Scaggs, Raul Malo, and Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings light up Edmonton’s Gallagher Park August 6-9. Details and complete line-up at efmf.ab.ca.

This week I’ll be submitting my first ballot nominees for the Polaris Music Prize. Awarded annually, this prize amounts to $20 000 for the album deemed by a panel of Canadian music writers and broadcasters as ‘best’ of the (June to May) year, regardless of sales or genre.

I’m honoured to be among the jury members from across our country. While my rootsy nominees seldom make it to the ‘short list’ of finalists, I usually place a couple on the ‘long list’ of 40 nominees.

So, here they are- the five albums I consider the ‘best albums of the year!’

In no particular order:

• Great Lake Swimmers — Lost Channels (Nettwerk) Existing on the fringes of roots music, Tony Dekker’s Ontario-based Great Lake Swimmers are, in my opinion, a perfect listening choice for those tired of Blue Rodeo, ready for challenging sounds that bring to mind Bon Iver, The Black House, Blue Oyster Cult, and XTC. Lost Channels enraptured me from first listen, and Pulling on a Line may be the singular finest new song I’ve heard in six months.

• Woodland Telegraph- Sings Revival Hymns (Northern Folklore) Woodland Telegraph comes out of Lethbridge via Kananaskis Country, where Matthew Lovegrove spent the winter of 2007 writing the music that became Sings Revival Hymns; his intention was to re-create the Canadian Rockies and their history in song. Lovegrove’s deep, melodic voice takes some getting used to, but once one accepts it the magic flows from the speakers. The music is charged, and sweeps away musical inertia through challenging melodies and time signatures.

• The Swiftys- Ridin’ High (Self-released) Not hearing new material for several years from The Swiftys, I had to reacquaint myself with Shawn Johnson and Co.’s approach to rootsy, country rock. Ridin’ High is a more engaged, mature collection of songs, not as immediately welcoming as their previous material but every bit as attractive. If these guys were from Austin, they might be just another band; since they are ours- well, at least western Canada’s- they ‘ride high’ in my esteem.

• Maria Dunn- The Peddler (Distant Whisper) I must stand behind Edmonton’s Maria Dunn and advocate one final time for The Peddler. An album of rare acuity, this disc is populated with characters historical and imagined. Joined by long-time collaborators Shannon Johnson and The McDades, Dunn’s sweet and gentle manner tempers the darkness that shades many of her songs. Her voice and phrasing, as well as her blending of Scots-Irish folk sounds, are immediately and appreciatively identifiable.

• Jayme Stone & Mansa Sissoko- Africa to Appalachia (Self-released) Released last summer, this one was almost forgotten, but the intense exploration of the Malian roots of the 5-string banjo will not be denied. Stone, Sissoko, and their collaborators successfully amalgamate African sounds- kora, percussion, ngoni, and vocals- with the fiddles and banjos of the Appalachia, producing a unification of rhythms that is lively, memorable, and awe-inspiring.

As I am limited to five nominees, I couldn’t put forth terrific albums released by The United Steel Workers of Montreal (Three on the Tree), Rae Spoon (Superioeyouareinferior), David Baxter (Day & Age), Annabelle Chvostek (Resilience), One Hundred Dollars (Forest of Tears), Romi Mayes (Achin’ in Yer Bones), and The Deep Dark Woods (Winter Hours,) all of whom released music worthy of mention and listening.

Donald Teplyske is a local freelance writer who contributes a twice-monthly column on roots music; visit fervorcoulee.wordpress.com for additional reviews. If you know a roots music event of which he should be aware, contact him at fervorcoulee@shaw.ca

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