Claire Lynch has set her personal and musical compass to the North, and the result is proving beneficial to many SOCAN members.
The acclaimed American bluegrass/roots singer-songwriter has earned a 2017 Grammy Award nomination in the Bluegrass Album of the Year category for her recent (and tenth) album North by South. Lynch was previously nominated for a Grammy in this category in 1996 and 1998, and she’s been named the Best Female Vocalist three times by the International Bluegrass Music Association.
As alluded to in the title, North by South is a collection of her covers of songs by SOCAN member songwriters, and the result is being unanimously well-received – including the new Grammy nomination.
SOCAN members whose work is re-interpreted on North by South include Gordon Lightfoot, David Francey, Ron Sexsmith, Bruce Cockburn, the late Willie P. Bennett, Cris Cuddy, Old Man Luedecke, Lynn Miles, and J.P. Cormier.
Lynch explains that the concept came from a very personal place. “I fell in love with a Canadian man six years ago, and we got married two years ago,” she says. “He’s a huge music fan, and a collector of musical instruments, and he began to open up the world of Canadian music to me. I took particular interest in the songwriting, as I’m a writer myself, and that grew into a sense of ‘Wow, these are such wonderful songs.’ I became aware of how un-aware Americans are of what’s going on up here artistically.
“After being exposed to Canadian music, I realized it was a goldmine, and that it’d be really cool to share that with people in the U.S.”
“After being exposed to the music, I realized it was a goldmine, and that it’d be really cool to share that with people in my bluegrass and Americana musical community in the U.S. That’s why I made North by South.”
Produced by Grammy-winning banjoist and composer Alison Brown, the album features such elite American players as Bela Fleck, Stuart Duncan and Jerry Douglas. Hearing their songs played by such accomplished musicians and sung by a singular voice has certainly pleased the Canadian songwriters who’ve been covered.
“I’ve always said when I grow up I want to be a bluegrass singer, but this is even better!” says Lynn Miles. “I cried when I heard Claire’s version of ‘Black Flowers.’ I just love it. There will be a crowd-sourced video of that song, and I’m very excited to see the outcome of that.”
Ron Sexsmith is similarly happy with the Lynch version of his “Cold Hearted Wind.” “I loved it!” he says. “I was so surprised that she picked that one. It’s a very personal song for me, so I never thought anyone would ever cover it. I was honoured to be included.”
Brad Machry is the Manager of Royalties & Licensing at True North Records, the label and publishing (via Mummy Dust Music) home of Lynn Miles and Old Man Luedecke. He says that “Chris [Old Man] Luedecke was particularly thrilled to have someone he has revered for many years, Bela Fleck, playing banjo on ‘Kingdom Come.’”
Upon learning of the project, Machry sensed the potential benefits for his artists. “We’re registered with Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency (CMRRA) and the Harry Fox Agency (HFA) in the U.S. for mechanicals, so it would have been easy to stay arm’s-length. But I got in touch with LeAnn Bennett at Compass Records [Lynch’s label] and we decided to license directly, and work together on pushing for synch [film and television] placements.
“Claire has done us a great service, covering not only our published works by [True North artists] Lynn and Chris, but also our current and former label friends Ron Sexsmith, Gordon Lightfoot, David Francey, and Bruce Cockburn. If the project opens our neighbours’ minds to exploring all that Canada has to offer, we all win. She was able to bring together some of Canada’s best storytellers in such a truly Canadian way; understated and humble, allowing the songwriting to shine through.”
Lynch explains that the positive outcome of her album for Canadian songwriters “was part of my intention. I’m saying to my communities, ‘Look at these artists. I endorse them.’ I’ve gotten texts from friends saying, ‘I’ve just gone to Old Man Luedecke’s site and ordered his album.’”
Lynch is no slouch as a songwriter herself, having had songs covered by such American country stars as Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea, and The Whites. “I’ve never had a huge hit by any means, but a lot of bluegrass-ers have done my songs too,” she says. “The majority of my catalogue has been covered by me.”
Lynch and her husband currently split their time between residences in Nashville and Toronto, and Lynch is seeking permanent residence status in Canada. She now has a Canadian booking agent, Bob Jensen in P.E.I., and the 200-plus dates she played in 2016 included two Canadian tours. “I have two more planned this year, one out West and then one in Ontario and Québec in November,” she says.
Lynch has been checking out the acoustic music scene in Toronto and Guelph, and participating in jam sessions and song circles. “Everyone here has been very gracious to me and I have forged friendships already,” she says.