J.P. Cormier,
Looking Back: The Songs
(independent, 2005)

There are certain names that should be dripping from the lips of every person who has ever claimed a love for roots music. J.P. Cormier is one.

Equally adept as a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Cormier began teaching himself to play guitar at age 5, won his first competition (against adult performers) at age 9 and recorded his first album of bluegrass instrumentals at 16. A genuine wonder on any stringed instrument, he is perhaps even more renowned for his ability to write and sing ballads that run through your imagination like a motion picture. This collection, Looking Back: The Songs, is a mandatory purchase for anyone with even the slightest fondness for smooth, folk-drenched vocals, hard-to-forget story-songs and a passionate mastery of music.

Album producer Andre Bourgeois has provided enthusiastic notes on every track, most of which are Cormier originals with a few custom-tailored traditional and cover tracks thrown into the mix. Every one of these 15 songs is excellent, but some stick in your head even longer than the rest.

The collection begins with "The House Carpenter," an atmospheric traditional piece based on the far older "Daemon Lover" (Child Ballad No. 243). It's a bold start to the album that gets listeners hunkered down and eager for stories. Cormier lightens the mood next with "Blackbird," an absolutely sweet and carefree love song.

You might think track five, "The Fisherman's Daughter," is another love song at first, but it has much more to say about the people who live and work in fishing towns. "Angeline" is a murder ballad with a twist; be sure to listen carefully!

My favorite song here, hands down, is track 12, Cormier's show-stopping "Kelly's Mountain." An adventure song of star-crossed love, it starts low and slow but quickly picks up the pace and gets your pulse thumping along. Changes in tempo and pitch keep your heart racing right to the climax.

Before you have time to catch your breath, Cormier drops into a darker mood for "The Teazer/Liverpool Requiem," a haunting, disquieting song from the lone survivor of a storm at sea. This one will sweep you along as the waves crash over the storm-tossed fishing boat's deck. "Little Wawa," a sad but lighthearted Native love song by Stompin' Tom Connors, is a cheery relief from the grim finale of the previous tracks.

That's less than half of the songs on offer here, but you get the idea. Some of these songs were recorded previously, while others have only been shared with Cormier's audiences at live shows. But each is a winner; I can't imagine cutting even one from this CD.

Cormier, who calls the north country of Cape Breton home, has artfully arranged the music and plays all of the instruments here -- guitars, fiddle, acoustic and electric bass, piano, mandolin, banjo, keyboards, various percussion and drums. He requires only the occasional aid on backing vocals, which are provided as needed by Bourgeois and Cormier's talented wife, Hilda Chiasson Cormier.

Do yourself a favor and invite J.P. Cormier into your home. Listen to him sing and help me spread the word.

[ visit the artist's website ]

review by
Tom Knapp

1 March 2008

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