Dan McKinnon,
Between Wind & Water
(Maritime Museum of
the Atlantic, 1997)

When the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Nova Scotia, wanted an additional medium for sharing the culture and history of its seafaring past, it tapped singer-songwriter Dan McKinnon to do the job. Rather than record new versions of old shanties and other Maritime songs, McKinnon was charged with writing and performing new music spotlighting aspects of Nova Scotia's rich coastal heritage.

The resulting CD, Between Wind & Water, is a strong tribute to that heritage. McKinnon exercises his skills as a storyteller to evoke colorful memories of the region.

The album's title track begins things with a gentle, simple homage to the sea and those who work on or live near it. McKinnon then evokes the image of ocean as a nurturing entity, paying tribute to the women who've lost husbands and sons in "Mother Sea." "Before the Day is Done" is a sailor's work song in the vein of old shanties, while "Sailmaker" honors an old trade fallen victim to modern technology.

The schooner Bluenose has a fond place in the hearts of many Nova Scotian sailors, and "The Captain & the Queen" tells her tale. "The Wind in Your Soul" is another story-ballad, telling of Nova Scotian Joshua Slocum who, in the 1890s became the first person to sail around the world alone. "Remember Me," perhaps the most touching and sorrowful song on the album, describes the Dec. 6, 1917 explosion in Halifax harbor which killed close to 2,000 people and left 6,000 homeless.

"Shifting Sands" is about narrow Sable Island which claimed many ships in years gone by. "Many Miles to Go" commemorates the Canadian merchant seamen who braved German submarine attacks to keep supplies flowing to the Allied troops. The impact of steamships on the Canadian economy is recalled in "No Tomorrow," while the scientific steamship Acadia, which saw much service from 1913 to 1969, gains new life in "The Grand Old Lady." The album ends with an appropriate traditional ballad, "Farewell to Nova Scotia."

Besides McKinnon (vocals, guitars, bass, long-neck mandolin), the recording features the talents of Marc Currie (bodhran), Jon Goodman (Irish flute, whistle) and Gordon Stobbe (violin).

Kudos, too, for the liner notes, which provide complete lyrics, brief narratives about the incidents described in each song, and photos illustrating the music. It might sound cluttered, but it's not; designers Kathy Kaulbach, Dan Conlin and Michael Murray deserve a mention for their work.

McKinnon's singing and songwriting styles demand comparison to the late, great Stan Rogers -- if McKinnon isn't a Rogers fan, I'll be very surprised. And, while he's no replacement for Stan, he's a fair enough successor -- he's surely on the right path. The stories on Between Wind & Water certainly help keep a culture alive in our hearts.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 14 July 2001