McLauchlan’s songs celebrate the wisdom of age
McLauchlan dishes on his salad days — and aging
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.