Listen to Caragana Wind and it will sweep you away across the Great Divide and Rocky Mountains, to the edge of the continent. From the Prairies to the Gulf Islands, down the Baja, the journey covers territory and time, stirring up memories and stories, enlivened with a breath of fresh air and fully realized in visionary songs.
Gary Fjellgaard's 12th album is his best work, signposts from 35 years on the road, playing for people and listening too, carefully observing lives and the landscape.
"I knew Caragana Wind" was a good song and it was confirmed by audiences. I searched for others in a drawer-full of unfinished material and wrote new songs that were more than just radio fodder," he recalls.
"I wanted an acoustic sound with the vocals up front, to resist the over sweetening that musicians add as protection from the scary reality of their own voices," says Fjellgaard, who would require quintuple heart surgery during the project.
"I came back to the rough mix with a second wind and fresh ears," he reports, "and took my own advice about keeping a sense of humour, including in my songs and on-stage."
Caragana was grown as a windbreak and the song was written after a "good old visit" with the family homestead, in Rose Valley, Saskatchewan. It’s derelict now, empty for 50 years, "barn-board grey," like the couple in the title track and obscured by plants, abandoned by humans.
This is Fjellgaard’s most diverse and ambitious work, deceptively simple, with background vocalists Linda Kidder and Peter Padden, who have sung with him for decades and hand-picked musicians, all recorded in the Gerry Paquette’s basement studio in Nanaimo.
There is a completeness in the new CD that comes with time well spent. Starting with a tribute to a horse "Sweet Nellie," it continues on an autobiographical emigration aboard a "Steel Horse Lullaby." There are side excursions: the hilarious misadventures of a gringo on a "Malecon," a couple lost in song under a "Mexican Moon," and the madcap politics of "By the Sea."
Also included are poignant longings for "Barefoot Days," a tribute to the "Raw Courage" of those who fought and lost in raging BC forest fires, and the crowd-pleasing memory of "Pop Campbell's Barn."
The familiar Fjellgaard theme of vanishing values includes Vaqueros in "If the Cowboy Goes Away," becoming comical in "Lonely Desperado," a cowboy waltz "Whisper of Love" and a final message, "The Long Haul."
"I'm fortunate to be able to use my imagination to create songs people pay to hear, enough to make a living at least," he says. "For me, it's always been about the music and the love of it."