Dan McKinnon,
Songs from the Hearth
(self-produced, 2000)

"What better place is there than to sit in front of a fire and tell stories and listen to songs with just the crackle of the fire for noise?" writes Dan McKinnon in the liner notes for this album. I couldn't agree more, and if I were to do so, I'd be sure to invite McKinnon along. Or at least pop his CD into the player.

With Songs from the Hearth, McKinnon brings us another round of the relaxing, fireside-worthy songs that are so characteristic of his work. McKinnon, born and raised in Nova Scotia, Canada, tends to stick close to his roots in his songwriting. Ballads focusing on the life of a fisherman or a sailor, the beauty of his homeland or the comforts of home are a mainstay on the album. Joining McKinnon (who provides vocals, guitar and bass) on the recording are Gordon Stobbe (fiddle, mandolin), Jon Goodman (Irish flute, whistles) and Mark Currie (bodhran, bones, didgeridoo).

Among McKinnon's talents is his ability to borrow from a number of sources and combine the bits and pieces into a formidable work. "Farewell My Lassie-o" is a re-fashioning of an older song, alternatively titled "On the Banks of Jeddore," "The Nova Scotia Song" or "Farewell to Nova Scotia." He has kept, he says, some of the "quite different and beautiful" lines, got rid of the rest and changed the melody. The result is a lyrically and instrumentally pleasing ballad put together with lovely whistle harmonies. "Pirates of Penzance/Three Fishers" begins with a lovely old Cornish pipe tune and combines a poem by Charles Kingsley with music by Garnet Rogers. These separate elements make a wonderful fit, the flute and guitar carry the tune well, and the bodhran provides excellent rhythm and tone to accompany the song.

This album and indeed McKinnon's work in general, features very ear-pleasing instrumentation and melodies. The instrumentals flow together seamlessly, and McKinnon has a knack for choosing just the right instruments -- and just the right amount of each instrument to really make a song work. Lovely fiddle strains, along with guitar and mandolin are featured in "This House," while "Queen Upon the Water" is a ghost song, made more potent by the sounds of whistle and digeridoo. McKinnon's solo guitar and vocals shine in "Canadee-i-o." In fact, I can't say enough good things about McKinnon's guitar playing -- his style really appeals to me.

Another strength to the album is the liner notes. McKinnon has not only included the lyrics to all of the songs, but also some explanatory notes. The notes are about origins of songs or the thinking behind the lyrics. This is something that I find interesting, and all-too-neglected in many albums. It adds an interesting perspective to an artist's work when you have an idea of where the song might have come from or what the artist was thinking about at the time he wrote the song.

McKinnon's smooth baritone voice seems simply built for the ballads he sings, and the emotion he brings to each piece sets them apart from the rest of the crowd. Ear-pleasing melodies are common to all of his work, and the lyrics to his original songs are thought-provoking and from the heart. If it's a fireside session you're looking for, Dan McKinnon is your man.

[ by Cheryl Turner ]
Rambles: 29 September 2001