Review : Skydiggers - Northern Shore
PopmattersCanadian folk-rock group Skydiggers have, throughout their 20-plus years in existence, almost become more well known for their troubles with record labels than any music they’ve recorded, acting as little more than a primer and a cautionary tale for Canuck acts looking to break big. They were signed with a couple of mid-level labels in the early ‘90s and were a fairly popular draw on the pub circuit, but failed to make the big breakthrough to the next level. Those labels the group had been signed with went bankrupt by the mid-‘90s, putting the group’s first three albums out of print. When the band wanted to re-release what is considered to be their high-water mark, 1992’s Restless, by the end of the decade, the band was unsuccessful at winning back the rights to the master tapes, forcing them to put out an album of demos cobbled from that record’s sessions called Still Restless independently. They, too, made the leap to a major label in Canada for 1995’s Road Radio, but, once again, the sales weren’t exactly what the record company was looking for, and the band soon saw itself back in indie land once again rather than get pressured by their label into delivering a hit record simply for the sake of it. It’s little surprise that the band has had such bad luck getting their material distributed, that the group, along with entrepreneur Grant Dexter, would wind up forming their own label to help Canadian musicians get exposure. That label, MapleMusic Recordings, now backs or has backed such successful musicians as Kathleen Edwards, Sam Roberts, Joel Plaskett and many, many others.
With these difficulties—not to mention the fact that founding member Peter Cash, who built part of the vocal foundation of the band’s sound, left in the mid-‘90s—now well behind them, the band has broken a three-year silence to release their eighth studio album, a sprawling nearly-hour long collection of 15 songs called Northern Shore. For this album, the band reached into the past, taking songs that predated the existence of the group—such as “Liar, Liar”, a collaboration between vocalist Andy Maize and guitarist Josh Finlayson—as well as covering Mickey Newbury’s “Why You Been Gone So Long”. The group also briefly welcomes back Peter Cash here as a guitarist and vocalist on “Barely Made It Through”, co-written by Peter and his brother Andrew, a singer-songwriter who made a mark in Canadian music in the late-‘80s and early-‘90s as a solo performer and has since gone onto a political career as an elected Member of Parliament at the federal level for the socialist New Democratic Party. Two of Andrew’s other songs make appearances here as well. In addition to all of this, the band lets Jessy Bell Smith, a guest performer, take over the lead vocals for the song “Deep Water (31 Mile Lake)”. Does that sound like a record with a lot going on? Yes. Yes, it does....full text
NowtorontoThe eighth album from local roots rockers Skydiggers is an ambitious, almost hour-long effort that was recorded over a few sessions at guitarist Josh Finlayson’s Man Cave, Blue Rodeo’s Woodshed and the Tragically Hip’s Bathouse studio. There’s a lot of variety, from the sparse slow build of accordion-drenched opener Waves to the big alt-pop groove of Fire Engine (Red Explosion) and the Byrdsy Andrew Cash cover You’ve Been Gone So Long.
The band’s adventurous use of sampling and beats pays off when supporting Andy Maize’s vocal on The Herd, but the alt-folk arrangements tend to get melodramatic on quieter songs like I’ll Be There and the tremolo-piano-treated title track. They save some of the best for near-last: a rollicking cover of Mickey Newbury’s Why You Been Gone So Long and pretty Without Me, featuring Guelph’s Jessy Bell Smith....full text
ExclaimToronto-based roots rock veterans Skydiggers release their eighth studio album, Northern Shore today (April 17). The record comes out via Latent Recordings, the label set up by Cowboy Junkies main man Michael Timmins, while some of its tracks were recorded at the Woodshed, Blue Rodeo's studio, and the Tragically Hip's Bathouse recording facility.
This confirms the peer respect Skydiggers have long enjoyed within the Canadian music scene, and that is something they don't take for granted.
"One of the themes we went into the recording with was the theme of community," singer-songwriter Andy Maize tells Exclaim! "At this stage of our lives, we've found ourselves as part of a community we are very grateful for. Skydiggers is almost like a collective. People come and go, and there is material we draw from with all these people, but there's a core that moves the projects ahead."
The material on Northern Shore includes two songs -- "Wake Up Little Darling" and "You've Been Gone So Long" -- written by songsmith-turned-MP Andrew Cash. His brother, Peter Cash, was a founding member of Skydiggers, and he returns to the fold with a guest performance on "Barely Made It Through."
Now well into the third decade of their career, Skydiggers continue to revisit their prolific past. Their previous record, 2009's The Truth About Us, was a career retrospective, while a deluxe four-disc, 45-song edition of Northern Shore that is about to be released online includes both new (ten extra songs recorded during the Northern Shore sessions) and older material....full text
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