McLauch­lan’s songs cel­e­brate the wis­dom of age

McLauch­lan dishes on his salad days — and ag­ing

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - ERIC VOLMERS

Mur­ray McLauch­lan laughs when asked how many times he has trav­elled the road be­tween Bran­don, Man., and Moose Jaw, Sask. Let’s just say “lots.” “Since I was about 17 years old, pretty well ev­ery year,” says McLauch­lan, talk­ing with Post­media on the phone dur­ing a tour stop. “I’m like the orig­i­nal Hank Snow song: I’ve Been Ev­ery­where.”

The singer-song­writer is con­duct­ing the in­ter­view while pulled over on the side of the road some­where­be­tween Bran­don and Moose Jaw. McLauch­lan and multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist Vic­tor Bate­man will hit Cal­gary’s Jack Singer Con­cert Hall on Oct. 26 and Ed­mon­ton’s Win­spear Cen­tre on Nov. 1. While the tour is os­ten­si­bly in ser­vice of his 19th record, 2017’s Love Can’t Tell Time, he in­vari­ably throws in songs from his 2011 re­lease Hu­man Writes, deep cuts from his 47-year record­ing ca­reer and, of course, Cana­dian clas­sics such as Whis­per­ing Rain, Child’s Song, Down by the Henry Moore and Farmer’s Song.

It’s a vast canon of work and one that has been part of the dayto-day sound­track for more than one Cana­dian gen­er­a­tion, so the topic of longevity is a fit­ting one to dis­cuss with McLauch­lan. But it seems even more rel­e­vant when con­sid­er­ing Love Can’t Tell Time, an al­bum that mixes a hand­ful of his favourite stan­dards with orig­i­nals that sound like they could be. There is also a the­matic thread link­ing the tunes. While not re­ally a deep ex­plo­ration of mor­tal­ity, there is a cer­tain seize-the­mo­ment-while-you-still-can vibe to songs such as the ti­tle track, I’m Not Gonna Waste a Minute of My Life and The Sec­ond Half of Life.

Even McLauch­lan’s cov­ers — whether it be the Nat King Cole stan­dard Pick Your­self Up or Hey There, which Rose­mary Clooney turned into a hit back in 1954 — seem to of­fer a sim­i­lar mes­sage.

“Pick Your­self Up is my go-to song when I’m feel­ing down in the dumps,” he says. “And I was madly in love with Rose­mary Clooney’s voice, never mind her­self. I loved the way she sang, and Hey There was one of my favourite songs. I picked it be­cause, for me, it’s kind of like your older, wiser self shout­ing down through the halls of time to your young, dumb self who would fall in love with en­tirely the wrong per­son.”

Many of the orig­i­nals and stan­dards — which also in­clude a take on the Frank Si­na­tra hit, Come Fly With Me — deal with the wis­dom of age in one way or an­other, with top­ics veer­ing from find­ing love late in life to the im­por­tance of mak­ing the per­fect mar­tini.

“Songs like the ti­tle song are very, very life-af­firm­ing,” McLauch­lan says. “It’s sim­ply about the fact that love can hap­pen any time in your life; it’s ir­re­spec­tive of youth. It can hap­pen to old folks in a Chartwell res­i­dence. There are songs on it that sug­gest as you go through life, it’s an en­rich­ing process in which you grow. It’s not a di­min­ish­ing process in which you be­come a bur­den to so­ci­ety. As you get older and wiser, you re­al­ize life is ephemeral and that’s what makes it so sweet and so im­por­tant to wring what you can out of it while you’ve got it. It’s a beau­ti­ful and won­der­ful thing.”

There are good rea­sons that these orig­i­nals — which in­clude co-writes with every­one from singer-song­writer Kim Stock­wood, to the late pi­o­neer­ing sports writer/novelist Ali­son Gor­don, to McLauch­lan’s brother, Calvin — sound so authen­ti­cally time­less and per­fectly in step with the three stan­dards McLauch­lan cov­ers. Many were writ­ten for a stage project that never came to fruition, but proved valu­able in McLauch­lan’s con­tin­ued evo­lu­tion as a song­writer.

“The idea was to go to school and study the works of writ­ers like Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mer­cer — the pur­vey­ors of the Amer­i­can song­book,” he says. “It was try­ing to fig­ure out what made those songs work, be­cause they have a de­cep­tive sim­plic­ity . ... Once you’ve been around the block a lit­tle bit you read a lot more into them than was ac­tu­ally ap­par­ent in the first place. I was shoot­ing for that mark, to try and find out what made those songs work and write stuff in that id­iom.

“I liked it so much that I de­cided to go to school on the gui­tar again at that point in my life, about five years ago, and learned how to play the kind of chords and stylings that would al­low me to play that kind of mu­sic. It was very nat­u­ral for me to want to go into the stu­dio and do es­sen­tially an acous­tic-folk ver­sion of those types of songs.”

To boost that sense of au­then­tic­ity, McLauch­lan recorded songs live-off-the-floor while sit­ting on a stool with his 1938 Hensel acous­tic gui­tar and singing into an old tube mi­cro­phone.

“I like the way that records were made in the ’40s and the ’50s, where it was live in a room and if you screwed it up, well, you had to do it again,” he says.

So while the styles, and in some cases the songs, date back much fur­ther than McLauch­lan’s own heady salad days as a teenager who would fre­quent and even­tu­ally play folk clubs in Yorkville’s bur­geon­ing mu­sic scene of the late 1960s, the ap­proach seems sim­i­lar to when the young singer would sit on a stool and play for crowds.

Prior to re­leas­ing his 1971 de­but, Song from the Street, McLauch­lan’s first big break came af­ter meet­ing Amer­i­can folk mu­si­cian Tom Rush at the iconic River­boat Cof­fee House in Yorkville, a venue that also helped launch the ca­reers of Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Gor­don Light­foot.

“I played (Tom Rush) two songs on the back steps, where ev­ery­body hung out be­tween sets,” he says. “I played him Child’s Song and Old Man’s Song on the back steps, and he recorded both songs on his de­but al­bum for Columbia.

“In that club, hang­ing out in the back, I met James Tay­lor and Ca­role King for the first time. James brought Ca­role to a lit­tle guest thing at the club, so you had James Tay­lor and Ca­role King on the same stage. I saw Phil Ochs there, Sonny & Brownie, Jesse Colin Young, who was re­ally the fa­ther of folk rock.”

Still, that was half-a-cen­tury ago and McLauch­lan has never been stuck in the past, even if his most re­cent al­bum cel­e­brates stan­dards and styles of the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s.

“When I started out I would write in a style I would call lin­ear nar­ra­tive, where you’re es­sen­tially start­ing some­where and end­ing some­where with a point of view or story in mind,” he says. “Now I write very im­pres­sion­is­ti­cally. Some­times, in the case of some of the songs that were on Hu­man Writes, I’m not re­ally sure what it’s about un­til I’ve fin­ished writ­ing it down.”

“There’s a love on Hu­man Writes that I wrote for (wife Denise Don­lon) called Then Where Would I Be. I love it. For me, it’s a lovely piece of po­etry. But I didn’t fig­ure out it was a love song un­til it was done.”

As you get older and wiser, you re­al­ize life is ephemeral and that’s what makes it so sweet and so im­por­tant to wring what you can out of it.


Mur­ray McLauch­lan’s new al­bum fea­tures cov­ers and brand new songs.

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