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Various Artists
Alberta: Wild Roses, Northern Lights
Classic Canadian Songs

Smithsonian Folkways

By Paula Kirman

Published April 3, 2007

From: Canada

Alberta is a Canadian province known for its scenic natural beauty. Wild Roses, Northern Lights attempts to capture the feelings inspired by watching the prairie sunset, exploring the Rocky Mountains, and examining the history of the area’s farmlands, badlands, and cities. There are some obvious choices, like Ian Tyson’s “Four Strong Winds” and tracks from k.d. lang and country superstar Corb Lund. Alberta’s large Francophone population is represented by “Allez Ouest” (Go West) from Lé Twés. Laura Vinson and Free Spirit’s “Half Breed” captures the frustrations of the Métis community—part French, part Native, but without government status given to other First Nations peoples. Maria Dunn sings about the plight of the worker in “Do You Know Slim Evans?” Kubasonics’ “Polka from L’viv” is an energetic tribute to the province’s many Ukrainians.

There are a few noticeable holes in the playlist. Calgary’s James Keelaghan writes and performs story-songs with incredible depth, yet is absent. Furthermore, many other French-language acts could have contributed songs, rather than two by Ian Tyson. Still, Wild Roses, Northern Lights is an excellent introduction to Alberta’s music and landscape.

Classic Canadian Songs collects traditional sounds from across the country. There are songs from Native cultures, ballads from Alberta, Celtic-influenced music from Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and of course French folk music from Quebec. Close attention is paid to Canada’s immigrant population. The Yiddish children’s song “Tonts, Tonts,” performed by Ruth Rubin, represents the Eastern European migration, while “The Ballad of Weldon Chan,” performed by Karen James, is about a Chinese immigrant who is pursued by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Most of the tracks were recorded in the 1950s and ’60s, though a few modern cuts appear, too. And the album ends with tapes of moose and bear calls—it doesn’t get more Canadian than that.

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