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There are few artists capable of appealing to music fans of all stripes, and Alan Doyle is one of them. From the moment he burst onto the scene in the early 1990s with his band Great Big Sea, Canadians fell in love with the pride of Petty Harbour, Newfoundland, whose boundless charisma and sense of humour was eclipsed only by his magnetic stage presence.
His influence is now being heard in a new generation of artists as his solo work continues to endear him to roots music fans everywhere. That’s clearly evident on Alan’s new EP Rough Side Out, which finds him collaborating with Canadian country music superstars Dean Brody and Jess Moskaluke, while at the same time offering his own distinctive interpretation of contemporary country.
The seeds for Rough Side Out were planted in 2012 when Brody asked Great Big Sea to record the song “It’s Friday” with him for the Platinum-selling album Dirt. For Alan, that was the moment he realized the door to the country music world was open for he and other east coast Celtic-leaning artists, and since then he’s warmly embraced building closer ties. “My personal journey with the whole thing has been very organic,” Alan says. “When my parents weren’t listening to traditional folk music, they were listening to country music on the radio. So, when I began creating my own musical identity, I was inspired by artists who were able to blend those two worlds.”
The same could be said of the songwriting and production team on Rough Side Out, which includes Alan’s frequent collaborators Donovan Woods and Todd Clark. Both have been bringing a new sensibility to Nashville, in part due to their individual backgrounds within the Canadian independent music scene, making Rough Side Out a natural progression of their past work with Alan.
“The songs on this record all have strong personal meaning to me,” he says. “I believe the best songwriters in any genre are the ones who can look in their own backyard and find something they want to sing about. In a way, that’s why I wanted to call this record Rough Side Out. It’s a Newfoundland expression I love and have used before that refers to clapboard that’s only sanded on one side. Houses in Newfoundland always have the rough side out because it holds the paint better, but it’s also a metaphor for who we are as people. Most of us have the rough side out— in the best possible way, of course.”
Fittingly, the EP’s first single is a reunion with Dean Brody, “We Don’t Wanna Go Home,” a rousing ode to having the perfect night out at your favourite watering hole. It’s a theme that carries on from Rough Side Out’s opening track, “We’re Gonna Love Tonight,” a celebration of freedom that bears all the hallmarks of an Alan Doyle anthem aimed at bringing people together. And what country music excursion would be complete without a classic duet? That was the basic idea behind recording “What the Whiskey Won’t Do” with Jess Moskaluke, a thrilling first-time experience for Alan.
“I’ve always wanted to do this kind of duet,” he says. “I’d written songs like that for other people but never for myself. I had the title in my back pocket for a while, and it was a case of just waiting until the right circumstances came along. And being such a fan of Jess, she was the perfect person to sing it with, mainly because her voice has so much more range than mine!”
The song describes a couple turning to the bottle in order to get over each other and serves as a reminder of the dangers of overindulgence. Along with the EP’s other great ballad, “It’s OK,” “What the Whiskey Won’t Do” underscores Alan’s long-time work in support of addiction and mental health organizations. However, in a purely musical vein, Alan felt a lot of personal satisfaction in capturing a note-perfect cover of John Mellencamp’s “Paper in Fire,” led by his renowned fiddle player Kendel Carson.
“I think in some ways that song really tied the whole project together,” Alan says. “First off, it’s a song I’ve always loved and always wanted to record. But to do it justice, you really need the right players, and the people we had for these sessions could absolutely nail it. The song also shows the change in how country music is perceived. I think if Mellencamp released The Lonesome Jubilee today, it would be regarded as a country album.”
Listening habits have indeed changed dramatically and looking back it’s incredible how the humble group of Newfoundlanders who formed Great Big Sea—with a simple goal of bringing their modern take on the music of their home province to mainstream ears—made such an indelible mark on a national scale. But with songs like “When I’m Up (I Can’t Get Down),” “Ordinary Day,” and their cover of R.E.M.’s “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It” now ingrained upon the Canadian consciousness, there can be no disputing Great Big Sea’s status as one of the country’s most influential bands of the past three decades.
Now as we enter a new decade of music, the notion of genres feels even more antiquated. Connecting with as many listeners as possible continues to be Alan’s top priority, and he cheekily admits he tried to stack the deck in his favour with the EP’s final track “I Gotta Go.” It’s a tailor-made concert staple if there ever was, containing the soon-to-be immortal line, “20 songs if they love me, only 18 if they don’t.” At this point, it would be hard to find any Alan Doyle fan who would choose to leave a show until he’s expended every ounce of energy on stage.
Ultimately, Rough Side Out is an Alan Doyle record, which remains a category all its own.
For someone who’s been on the road for more than 150 dates a year for the past 15 years, Chris Trapper appears to have taken his unsolicited break from touring pretty well. In between weekly livestreams on Facebook & Instagram, Trapper also performed in his fan’s backyards across the country all summer long during his “Socially Distanced Backyardapalooza”. To top it all off, Chris entered a studio near his home in Boston, MA to record his new album “Cold Water Waltz”.
“Recording an album in normal times is an interesting experience, so imagine creating new music during a global pandemic. Although I worked intensely with the producers (Brad Young and Jason Meeker) in their respective studios, I could rest assured because as most musicians know; audio engineers social distanced before it was trending.”
The album is a mostly stripped-down affair, with the focus squarely on Trapper’s achingly honest lyrics, honeyed tenor and delicate fingerpicking. The record features Boston legends Duke Levine (Aimee Man, Peter Wolf) & Jim Prescott (G Love & Special Sauce) as well as Matt Beck (Matchbox Twenty, Rod Stewart) & even a co-write with Rob Thomas.
“I wrote most of these songs when I was opening for Rob over the summer of 2019. There were lots of days off then and admittedly, it was easy to get inspired to write new songs after witnessing so many thousands of people psyched to hear his songs every night. Rob & I wrote the song “Clear” together and he is truly the coolest guy to co-write with as he is all about the creative process and never about the ego.”
“Cold Water Waltz” was released on October 16th, 2020 and is available at christrapper.com and on all streaming and download services.
The New York Times has called his work “classic pop perfection.”
“His humble sense of humility is what makes Trapper’s songs so strong… He makes you feel like you are the person he’s singing about.” Popdose