When you consider the concept of a Stompin’ Tom Connors tribute album, there are certain things you expect to hear.
You expect a heapin’ helpin’ of authentic hillbilly-smoked, folk-country music. You expect it to be a bit goofy in places, too. Just like The Stomper himself.
You don’t expect a noisy, punk rock assault or a barrage of experimental, art-pop weirdness.
But Bring Your Own Plywood: Calgary Does Connors — which features Calgary acts paying tribute to the lovably hokey, stubbornly nationalistic, country-folk hero — delightfully lives up to and defies expectations.
Allen Baekeland of the Rembetika Hipsters and Tom Phillips offer Connors covers solidly rooted in traditional country music.
The same can be said for Tim Hus’s self-penned tribute to the 67-year-old folk troubadour, Man With The Black Hat. And with their take on the song Rubberhead, with its corny refrain, “so long boob,” Matt Masters & the Gentlemen of the Rodeo serve up the prerequisite silliness.
But, in other places, things take a sharp turn.
There’s the rowdy punk rock of the Cripple Creek Fairies, Agriculture Club and Knucklehead; a stoned, murky reading of Luke’s Guitar by The Dudes; and Falconhawk’s version of I Don’t Know How To Fix The Damn Thing Blues hearkens back to the days of new wave.
Elsewhere, pissed-off prankster The Spam Avenger places crank calls to various businesses, reciting Connors’ lyrics to The Consumer as if he were registering a customer complaint. It’s as surreal for the listener as it is confusing for the Spam Avenger’s victims.
Meanwhile, both Chantal Vitalis and Lorrie Matheson give haunting, dead-serious acoustic renditions of the Connors songs Jenny Donnelly and Margo’s Got The Cargo.
Margo’s Got The Cargo, a tragic tale? Matheson insists that it is.
“This is the story of a Newfoundland couple that are so hard up, they think that driving from the Rock to the Big Smoke to try to sell a truckload of cow dung is their best chance of actually getting ahead in life,” Matheson writes in the CD’s liner notes.
“This song is sad, sad, sad!”
Jennifer Abel, one of the executive producers of the album, along with Dawn Loucks and Cam Hayden, takes pride in the CD’s diversity.
“At first, when we began approaching bands about being on the CD, we thought we should just talk to country-folkie people,” Abel says. “But then we thought that just isn’t representative of the Calgary scene.”
The origins of the project go back a year-and-a-half ago when Abel and Loucks met while working at Calgary’s CJSW Radio.
The two bonded, not only over their passion for music, but also over their shared experience as cancer patients.
By last spring, both women had beaten the disease and they began to throw themselves into the idea they had for the Connors tribute.
“We thought, life is short so let’s do what we love to do,” says Abel. “Stompin’ Tom deserves a tribute record. And part of it was also, ‘Hey, there’s all these great Calgary bands out there. Why the heck aren’t they getting the recognition they deserve?’ So we thought maybe we could help out.”
To that end, the women formed their own record label, Saved By Radio Records. They partnered with another Calgary indie, Catch & Release, to manufacture the CD, which they plan to distribute and market.
The disc does paint an impressive picture of Calgary’s rich music scene.
It feeds into our Cowtown image as a western city basking in its country roots, but it also flies in the face of that image with its diverse rock sounds.
Even the city’s pop-art scene is represented in the CD packaging, painted by artist and musician Tom Bagley, formerly of the ghoulish garage rock band, Forbidden Dimension.
Bagley also contributes a zombified cover of the Connors tune She Don’t Speak English under the guise of his rock alter-ego Jackson Phibes.
Ever the horror movie fanatic, Bagley decided to cover that particular tune because he heard it in a scene from a 1970s made-in-Canada B-movie called Deranged.
“The thing I like about Stompin’ Tom is he does what he does, and there’s not a shred of irony to it,” Bagley says.
“He acts goofy but he’s not doing it to be a smart-ass. I think he really is this weird, hillbilly guy that’s really rare in this day and age. You sort of wonder if he’s ever put his tongue in his cheek, and I don’t think he has. It’s sincere.”
Abel says there was talk about trying to get Stompin’ Tom himself out to Calgary for the tribute CD release party, which will be held tonight at the Night Gallery, but the funds simply weren’t there.
For now, she and Loucks had to be content sending a copy of the CD to Connors. She’s nervously anticipating the possibility of Connors’ reply.
This is the man who returned all his Junos in a huff back in 1978, choked that the awards committee was rewarding artists he perceived to be “border jumpers.”
This Maritime cowboy has a reputation for being a tad cranky at times.
“Hopefully, he won’t say it’s awful and that we should all be wiped off the face of the planet,” Abel says. “We did this out of the utmost respect…Everybody brought such passion to their work. Nobody did it on a lark.”
Allen Baekeland thinks Connors might be flattered, but ultimately he doesn’t believe the Stomper will care one way or the other.
“I think he does what he does and the rest of the world be damned. That’s his thing.”