Jay Aymar,
Halfway Home
(independent, 2010)

These days, Ian Tyson seldom covers anybody else's songs. So, when I saw "My Cherry Colored Rose" listed on Tyson's most recent album (Yellowhead to Yellowstone, which I reviewed here on 28 March 2009), I was surprised to see it credited to somebody named Jay Aymar. I figured that it must be an exceptional piece of work. It is. Tyson rightly calls it a "true Canadian folk song." A fact-based story, it assumes the voice of a real individual -- tough-talking Canadian hockey announcer Don Cherry -- and imagines how he found a way to go on living after his wife, to whom he had been devoted for many years, died of cancer in 1997.

It's pretty close to a perfect song, but I couldn't imagine how Aymar could have written it without Cherry's permission. Reading the fine print on the cover of Halfway Home, I note Aymar's bow to Cherry for "allowing me to record something so personal to you." "Rose" appears on this CD in a different arrangement from Tyson's, and a powerful one.

Ontario-based singer-songwriter Aymar sounds something like an amalgamation of Tom Rush, Jesse Winchester and Guy Clark. "This Town Ain't Big Enough" has the Caribbean lilt of Winchester's "I'm Gonna Miss You, Girl," for example, and "All I Know" is broadly reminiscent of his "Defying Gravity." The arrangements have the exquisite blend of stark simplicity and sly sophistication that one associates with the above-named masters.

Still, Aymar manages to be more than the sum of his influences. An appealing musical personality emerges in these 10 cuts. He seems, well, like a nice guy you'd like to know, a wry observer and a modest man whose songs have a charmingly conversational quality. That conversation, I might add, is more likely to be conducted over a cup of coffee than a bottle of beer -- which is to say this definitely isn't country music -- but beneath that calm, pleasant voice is the piercing, unsentimental intelligence of a keen social critic. "Easy Street" and "Carry Me Back Home" are a whole lot less easy-going than you'd think if you aren't listening closely. "Crow" -- which Tyson ought to consider recording if he's up to covering another Aymar composition -- is downright harrowing.

If other Aymar songs celebrate life's uncomplicated pleasures, they do it without sap. Halfway Home, an understatedly lovely album, is the sort of art that speaks in measured tones, too assured to require more than a whisper. As you lean forward to hear it, it just kind sneaks up and grabs you. That's a whole lot harder to do than you'd think.

[ visit the artist online ]

review by
Jerome Clark

24 April 2010

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