East Coast Music 101 (Part I)

joel plaskett

joel plaskett

Many of the first musical artists that I listened to as a child were Atlantic Canadian and certainly the Nova Scotian cultural penchant for Celtic flair, sea shanties and fiddles permeated into my blood as seamlessly as my appetite for lobster and love of a cold salty ocean breeze. I never sought out music specifically because it was from the East Coast, but it was so often the East Coast music that spoke most ardently to my heart. As many young Atlantic Canadians do, I took much of our province’s rich musical canon for granted and it wasn’t until I was much older and moved away from home for the first time that I really began to appreciate how distinctly gifted, how extraordinary multi-talented and how exceptionally fervent, successful and prolific the musicians on the East Coast are- not to mention how resilient and determined to succeed, we all are, as the economic odds never seem to be in our favour and we still often feel the brunt of our nation’s inferiority complex and yet, quand même, talent still blooms here and thrives both beautifully and magically.

If you are only marginally familiar with the East Coast musical canon, I would like to offer you a list of MUST HAVE additions to your musical library. This list will only scrape the very beginning of the surface of what Atlantic Canada has to offer, but it will hopefully kindle your interest in some of the very best of Canadian music. I am splitting the list  into two blogs so it is easier to read.


RITA MACNEIL: I don’t remember a time before Rita’s soulful voice wasn’t a resonant part of my life. When I was about six years old my aunt introduced “Flying on Your Own” to me as a feminist anthem, which is fitting since Rita has been an inspirational pioneer in forging out a place for women in the song writing business in Nova Scotia and has certainly paved the way for an impressive array of strong, dynamic and powerful female singer/songwriters/musicians to come. Her Christmas album Joyful Sounds: A Seasonal Collection is one of my absolute favourites, likely because she has such a beautiful, wide, open and joyful heart that permeates all the music she makes and that mixture of sweetness and vulnerability is so perfectly suited to Christmas songs. She may have upped her coolness factor when she guest starred on Season 4 of The Trailer Park Boys, but for me (and I know it may sound cheesy, but it’s the honest truth) her genuine warmth reminds me of home and my childhood. Check her out:

THE RANKIN FAMILY: “Celtic Music Heroes” The Rankin Family burst out onto the East Coast music scene in 1989 with the gorgeous and distinctive harmonies of Cookie, Raylene and Heather, the infectious fiddle and piano of John Morris and the poignant songs written by Jimmy. Together, the effect was magical. If you don’t own North Country and These Are the Moments you should stop reading this right now and go buy them, they will make your heart feel cozy. Then I suggest investing in the rest of their albums. They are all great. Check out this tune for just a taste.

JIMMY RANKIN has since released five solo records, which are exorbitantly different from the work he did with his siblings. I recommend buying Forget About the World, which (incidentally) Keith Urban plays guitar on and also Song Dog. My favourite of Jimmy’s songs (today) are on those two records: “I’m Just Saying,” “Here in My Heart,” “The Hurtin’ Part,” “Followed Her Around,” “Midnight Angel” and “Lighthouse Heart.” His voice is dreamy and his lyrics are so poetic. I could listen to his music all day (and sometimes I do!).

RAYLENE RANKIN released two solo records, Lambs of Spring is out of print, but I heartily recommend her last album All the Diamonds. Her voice is connected directly to her heart on this album. It is the purest, crispest and brightest I have heard her beautiful, angelic voice- it resonates out of her like her body is a cathedral with the best acoustics in the world. She pours everything she has into this record, which makes it heartbreaking to listen to but in a beautiful, cathartic way. The joy in her is so palpable; it is clear that she was living with every ounce of herself engaged and that spirit of delight is infectious. Her voice is so sweet and rich, you will want to bask in it like pure sunlight. We have lost a remarkable and unique Atlantic Canadian treasure, but All These Diamonds is certainly Raylene’s last (and profoundly generous) gift to us. Watch this clip from 1986 where she is the cutest.

JOEL PLASKETT: One of Halifax’s most famous musical exports is Joel Plaskett who has been rocking out in the Indie Rock scene in Nova Scotia since the 1990s. I recently fell in love with his 2012 album with the longest title ever EMERGENCYs, false alarms, shipwrecks, castaways, fragile creatures, special features, demons and demonstrations, which nicely sums up much of what you can expect from its 20 tracks. It has been characterized as a “B-sides and rarities” compilation. It has a distinctive East Coast flair, many Nova Scotia specific lyrics, and universal emotional rock n’ roll fervor. His newest album Scrappy Happiness will be released on March 27th and he was nominated for the ECMA Rock Recording of the Year and as Fan’s Choice Entertainer of the Year. Check out this video:

MELANIE DOANE: According to my aunt I first saw Melanie Doane perform when I was four, the first time I went to Neptune Theatre, where Melanie was playing Alice in Alice in Wonderland. I wish with all my heart that I could remember this, but I have been told I gave her and the entire production extremely zealous and enthusiastic reviews. In 1998 her album Adam’s Rib dominated the radio airwaves of my adolescence and Melanie has been touring the country and being a cabaret star and theatre star and music star ever since. I love her gorgeous homesick love song “Salt Water,” her song “Goliath” is my own special power anthem and “Every Little Thing” is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard about motherhood. She is a stunning singer, she plays the fiddle, the guitar, the bass, the ukulele AND the piano incredibly (and nearly simultaneously), her song writing is gorgeous and heartfelt AND she is stunning beautiful. Crazy. Check this out:

AMANDA LEBLANC: Amanda LeBlanc, a talented theatre actor and musician from Nova Scotia, burst onto the East Coast Music scene in 2009 with the release of her debut album Yours Truly and she has since toured the province, sung at the Stan Rogers Folk Festival and performed all over Toronto with her big hearted, bright spirited, wistful and original tunes. You can read a longer review of Amanda’s album here, but for now: just listen to this girl sing!

Check out the next five of my favourite East Coast artists here. 

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