Tim Hus,
Western Star
(Stony Plain, 2013)

Albertan Tim Hus is a protege of singer-songwriter Stompin' Tom Connors (1936-2013), known by nearly all Canadians and by practically nobody else. There is a reason for that: Connors's songs are so Canada-centric that their references are unlikely to mean anything to anyone who doesn't live there.

More than anything, Connors was a passionate, vocal patriot. If you weren't Canadian, the songs, as good as they often were, could leave you feeling the outsider. I doubt that mattered much to Connors, who held a dim view of the imperial colossus to the south.

Connors's musical language was a fusion of country arrangement and folk expression, as is Hus's. Each of Western Star's dozen cuts is set in an explicitly identified Canadian landscape, even when it serves only to tell the universal tale of failed romance. The characters are all ordinary people carrying on ordinary pursuits, from courting and drinking to hunting and fishing to working blue-collar jobs. All of this is accomplished in (as someone remarked of Connors's songs) a "Canada without politics." Unless you judge hunting an obnoxious pursuit (I do), nothing is going to offend anybody. Except for lovers at odds, this is a land whose residents get along pretty well.

As I listened to Western Star, I wondered what an American equivalent would sound like. I am certain it would not be so amiable as this. In recent decades American nationalism has become suffused with hard-right politics and thundering jingoism. Instead of an easygoing Tim Hus, we'd be subjected to the foaming-at-the-mouth likes of Toby Keith or Hank Williams Jr.

Hus's company is infinitely preferable.

Though Hus's themes render him more a folk than a country singer (his motto "Take it easy but take it" is borrowed from Woody Guthrie, albeit without credit), he performs with a loud band in which electric and steel guitar are prominent, and in one song he repeatedly affirms his affection for the late honkytonker George Jones. The songs are largely up-tempo, almost to the edge of monotony. An exception is the somber ballad "Forgotten Sailor," set in World War II, far and away the most down-beat number and a powerful piece of storytelling.

For what it is, a celebration of Canadian life intended for a Canadian audience, Western Star does the job. A tip of the hat, too, to producer Harry Stinson for his role in making the record sound so good in a basic aural sense.

music review by
Jerome Clark

16 November 2013

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