Oh Canada! A musical journey through Canada’s country scene
Charlotte Holmes, Contributor
Country music traditionally is associated with our neighbours to the south. But here in the great white north, we too have a vibrant and diverse country music industry that has seen years of transformation through the artists who have built and contributed to it. Whether a bush party in high school, a music festival over the summer or a Thursday night at Cowboys Casino, each of us has listened to country music at some point.
Although the genre might not be everybody’s favourite, Canadian country music in recent years has flourished throughout the prairies. If you’re living in Alberta there is a minimum requirement you know all the lyrics to Paul Brandt’s “Alberta Bound.”
Jokes aside, although country music in the south is typically associated with, in layman’s terms, country –– you know, like horses, cowboys, whisky and sweet Georgia peaches — the genre here in the north has developed a little differently.
Nearly a hundred years ago during the 1930s, fiddlers in the Eastern region of the country helped to popularize the genre here. Singers and songwriters tended to stick to ballad-like songs with clearer, more predominant vocals over nasal-based ones. With the growth of the genre since, it has expanded in style, now encompassing various sounds, undertones, cross-genre mixes and so on.
Canadian summers are littered with different festivals and the country ones seem to be seeing more and more familiar faces each year. Canadian-based artists are increasingly becoming the headlining acts of these festivals as their music is topping the charts even in the heart of country music, Nashville. Notoriously it has been difficult for Canadian country artists to penetrate the scene in Nashville, there are many contributing reasons for this but one driving force is the amount of saturation created by American names in the genre.
Despite the difficulty, Canadian starlit artists like Ian Tyson and Shania Twain have been able to break into mainstream country and compete with our neighbours to the south. These artists have not only created a name for themselves but have created space for other aspiring Canadian artists to do the same.
Over the past decade, people like Dean Brody, Dallas Smith, Brett Kissel and Jess Moskaluke have continued to build and popularize the genre. After leaving his rock band, Default, Dallas Smith threw himself into the country scene and has become one of the most celebrated Canadian country artists. With multiple chart-topping albums and singles, the singer has accumulated a wealth of awards, like the Canadian Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year award for back-to-back years in 2019/20.
Current and upcoming artists have their eyes set wide as they continue the efforts of their predecessors by collaborating and even touring with them while still creating their own chart-topping hits. In 2020, country music legend Keith Urban — who has previously described Calgary as a second home — presented Grand Prairie native Tenielle Towns with the award for New Female Artists of the Year.
Duo, High Valley has also contributed with continuous high charting releases like “She’s With Me,” peaking on US country charts at #11. Collaborations have also added to the popularization of Canadian names in the mainstream. Gord Bamford and Jess Moskaluke with “To Get to You,” The Reklaws and Dean Brody with “Can’t Help Myself” or even Kelsea Ballerinis’ “Hole in the Bottle” with the one and only Shania Twain. These collaborations have fostered special connections between Canadian country music artists and even with some of their American counterparts.
With a more difficult path to mainstream country fame than American artists, Canadians have been working hard to make their voices heard. One example is the James Barker Band’s 2019 European Tour where the Canadian foursome played six shows from London to Norway and even Switzerland – that’s right the Swiss like country music too.
That all being said, even if you may not be the biggest fan of country music yourself, I urge you to keep your ears open for what’s next from our Canadian artists. Emerging names like Jojo Mason, Lindsay Eil, and Tenille Arts along with more established artists like Mackenzie Porter, Chad Brownlee and all those mentioned above have proven that Canadian artists have a place on the charts and within the mainstream country.
So just like some of these artists encourage in their music, maybe it’s time to crack a cold one and enjoy your own footloose fantasies.