various artists,
Remembering Stan Rogers:
An East Coast Tribute

(Fogarty's Cove, 1995)

I'm sort of a purist when it comes to music, so I've never been a fan of cover tunes, especially when the cover doesn't stay true to the spirit of the song. In the case of Stan Rogers, it is difficult, quite frankly, to avoid covers. I love his writing, but so much of the appeal of the songs comes from his personal touch and from the emotion he pours into his performance. I bought this CD anyway, because I was in Glace Bay, Cape Breton, and it seemed like the thing to do.

Two nights (April 23 & 24, 1995) of concerts were recorded for this release, at Dalhousie University in Halifax, which was one of Stan's favourite venues. He recorded Home in Halifax on the same stage, the significance of which, I'm sure, is not lost on the performers. There are famous artists and newcomers to the East Coast music scene -- and there isn't one who was not well-chosen to sing each song. Perhaps I like some of the songs better because I'm a rather recent addition to the Stan Rogers fan base and haven't heard his versions. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. In every case, whether it's the melodic voices of Evans & Doherty or the beautiful harmony of Rita and Mary Rankin, the spirit of the songs remains -- and it is clear from the outset that the artists really are there because of a deep and abiding respect for the singer and songwriter, to the man, to whom they pay tribute.

The Irish Descendants kick it off with "The Mary Ellen Carter," which is one of my favourite Stan Rogers songs. I just love the "no matter what you've lost, be it a home, a love, a friend, like the Mary Ellen Carter rise again" line at the end. Rita and Mary Rankin follow with "Tiny Fish for Japan." This song is not a favourite of mine, but if two performers with such distinct female voices were to sing any song by Stan Rogers, this mournful tribute to Ontario's fishermen should be it. Terry Kelly is next with an energetic "Fogarty's Cove," one of Rogers' signature songs. He gets some help from the audience members, who are having a great time.

A couple of the boys from Rawlins Cross pour a lot of emotion into the deeply personal "You Can't Stay Here," Rogers' take on the life of a touring musician. One of the standouts on the record is Evans & Doherty's version of "Lock-Keeper." Of all the artists who participated in this recording, Evans & Doherty come closest to capturing Stan Rogers' voice. Debbie Adshade is the farthest away from capturing that voice in "Harris and the Mare." I guess I'm just not a fan of female performers covering Stan Rogers. Later in the show, I must admit, Laura Smith manages to impress with the amount of feeling she throws into "Song of the Candle."

Relative unknown (in 1995, anyway) Lennie Gallant impresses with "Make and Break Harbour." I have a feeling that Gallant's "Peter's Dream" is modeled on songs like this. John Allen Cameron's guitar instrumental is one of two songs on the record not written by Stan Rogers. It is well-played, if a tad long, and the audience explodes in appreciative applause. Matt Minglewood does a rocking version of "Forty Five Years," which Rogers wrote for his wife. He seems slightly out of breath throughout, which takes away from the impact of the song for me, especially since the original is so different. The final Stan tune on the record is "Northwest Passage." Modabo gives an inspired performance -- the harmonies are beautiful and the emotion in their words brings unbidden tears to the eyes of even the most stoic listener. The CD ends with Bruce Guthro's "Stan's Tune." Lyrics like "And the songs you left for us grow truer by the day / It's almost like you never went away" reveal the thoughts of so many of the artists on this record -- and of many listeners. That is the entire point of this record -- we wish he hadn't left us at such a young age, but he lives on through the music into eternity.

This is a good recording; the sound quality is fantastic and all of the performers are enjoying themselves. In the end, it's still better to hear Stan singing than to hear people singing his songs; but I'll take what I can get.

[ by Rachel Jagt ]