Valdy &
Gary Fjellgaard,
(Stony Plain, 2000)

Both Valdy and Gary Fjellgaard have been around awhile. Separately, they both have successful careers. Valdy enjoys near-icon status in Canada, after 14 albums, 22 singles, four gold records and two Juno awards. Fjellgaard, though not as widely known, is also a well-loved and experienced singer-songwriter with many award-winning songs to his credit.

Together, they've come together to write and tour, and they've recorded Contenders. On the surface, the project sounds like a great idea. It brings together two weathered but still tuneful voices and two fine songwriters in the country-folk vein. Although I haven't seen Fjellgaard perform, I have seen Valdy, and there's no doubt he's a big-hearted, generous and polished performer. Live, he's definitely a force to contend with, and I have no doubt Fjellgaard is, too.

However, Contenders (on Stony Plain and distributed by Warner) lacks the energy of a live performance, and the songs themselves don't sparkle enough to make this a truly first-rate album. The duo co-produced the project, with engineering by Paul Brosseau and additional co-production by Gary Koliger. The songs are fleshed out in tasteful arrangements featuring Daniel Lapp, John Reischman, Teddy Borowicki and Matt Atkins.

The project came about as the result of what is, by all accounts, a productive and rewarding musical partnership. Unfortunately, many songs here seem unduly self-referential and obvious, as in "There is no place I would rather be/than here in your fine company/just an old flat-top guitar and me/trying to catch your fancy." There are several references to the challenge of maintaining a touring music career in middle age and beyond, which in itself might work if the songs were stronger. As it is, the songs (all radio length with simple structures and chords) tend to come across as conservative and predictable, which probably isn't the effect Valdy and Fjellgaard had in mind.

The title track describes the pair as being "still contenders, a pair of happy enders." I guess I'd accept that lyric from Valdy if I heard it at a folk festival and were in a particularly accepting mood. But here it comes across as a little corny, and (dare I say it) complacent. After all, what hungry up-and-coming musician would dare use it?

There are some sweet moments here, particularly the song "Wonderland," a tribute to the rewards of long-term commitment. The duo also does a competent job on the Roger Miller classic "King of the Road" (which, again, I'm sure goes over huge in a live show). Personally though, I'd love to hear Valdy and Gary Fjellgaard take a big leap of faith and shake things up a bit ... cover a tune by Fred Eaglesmith, for example. Or tell us how scary it really is to get older in the music business. Take a few risks guys ... we'll still love ya.

- Rambles
written by Joy McKay
published 21 December 2002

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