Richard Thomas Wright
& Cathryn Wellner,
Rough But Honest Miner,
Castles in the Air
(Winter Quarters, 2000)

Gold rush stories figure prominently in the history of the West. Many a man and not a few women headed west as fast as they could travel to make their fortunes and come home rich. More often than not, they returned home dead broke, if they returned home at all.

Nearly everyone has heard some of the stories and even some of the songs. What most people may not be aware of, at least not in the United States, is that gold was also discovered in Canada's British Columbia in the 1860s, precipitating yet another gold rush so massive that BC's governor was worried that the Americans would simply claim the territory by occupation, as they had Oregon.

Miners are a hard-working, often hard-drinking lot, and they need their entertainment as much as any other. The BC gold rush had its own songs and stories, and Richard Wright and Cathryn Wellner have collected fifteen of them on their CD Rough But Honest Miner.

The only songs that might be familiar to the average listener are "Yellow Rose of Texas" and "Listen to the Mockingbird." The others include "Erin's Green Shore," "The German Lasses," "Hard Times Come Again No More" and the title track, "The Rough But Honest Miner."

The songs are sung and played by Wright and Wellner, who are joined by Ken Hamm & the Wake Up Jacob Band. The tunes are presented as authentically as possible. To the residents of Barkerville, Cariboo and Victoria, these songs may have been rollicking dance tunes, but to the modern listener, they seem old-fashioned and tame. But the tunes are catchy, and even the most uninterested of listeners may find himself whistling "The Rough But Honest Miner" or "Mary, Come Home" when he least expects it.

The companion volume, Castles in the Air, derives its title from the tune "The Rough But Honest Miner." The history outlined in this slender book is actually more interesting than the CD itself. Background is presented on each song along with interesting anecdotes and explanations of some of the more esoteric phrases. It is also noted here what instrumentation is used for the tunes on the CD.

Taken together, book and CD are a fascinating glimpse into the lives of miners and boom town residents of over a century ago.

[ by Laurie Thayer ]