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.”

Claire LynchBrad 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.

Alejandra Ribera“I want my music to defy trends and be timeless.” Such is the commendable mission upon which singer-songwriter Alejandra Ribera embarked when she began writing songs for her third album. This Island is a great inward journey that the Toronto-born, Montréal-based artist – her mother was Argentinian, her father Scottish – gifted to herself.

“I love to explore the recesses of the human heart to harvest an optimistic poetry,” says Ribera. “I was moved by a speech Tilda Swinton gave on the topic and by a study about the movement; there is infinite potential that exists between suspension and liberation.”

If it all seems quite abstract, to Ribera it’s as clear as a mountain stream. Her 10 new songs are a befitting collection in the wake of La boca, produced in 2014 by Jean Massicotte (Jean Leloup, Arthur H), which contained her SOCAN Songwriting Prize-winning song “I Want,” which she wrote. Her first EP, Navigator, Navigather, launched in 2011, had already announced her humanist groove, which revealed the tightly-knit links of her fertile imagination.

“I spent three weeks in Paris, in January 2015, to get back in touch with myself,” says Ribera. “I lived in the onzième arrondissement. I couldn’t understand what the people around me were saying and I quickly became homesick,” she confides, in her very acceptable French. “I felt stranded on an island, hence the album title. To comfort myself, I started writing [lyrics] by imagining parallel universes where people came to me to talk. Then the Charlie Hebdo attack happened: for three days straight, all I could hear were the deafening shrieks of the sirens driving by my window.”

Inspired by the Virginia Woolf novel of the same name, she titled the last song on the album “Orlando.” On that song, Ribera reaches for her upper vocal range to capture our souls and puncture our skin.

“The first time I sang it for my musicians was during a soundcheck, while we were touring Canada with Ron Sexsmith,” she says. “We came up with it in about 45 minutes and played it for the audience that same night. Ironically, we were doing the final mix for that song when the Orlando massacre happened. It’s mysterious and bizarre!”

And as with many an imaginary island, This Island has buried treasure – and it’s a fabulous bundle of musical loot. The singer’s tone of voice on “Undeclared War” sounds just like Beth Orton, wrapped in the same softness and sensuality. “Led Me to You” is a little gem of Americana that would surely cause said Sexsmith to rejoice. “Will Not Drown” is peppered with trumpets, Spanish lyrics and handclaps. It’s ingenious and resourceful: folk songs, languid ballads, luminous melodies; everything falls into place to form a unique and singular, brilliantly produced universe. It’s one of those albums you listen to in a single sitting – after which you clearly feel that, as the artist intended, This Island is indeed timeless.

“I wanted to stay away from the current recording methods,” says Ribera. “I quickly realized that playing the previous album’s songs in a more intimate environment, night after night, brought it the missing link: the osmosis between the musicians, playing live. It was immediately clear in my mind that the next record would be recorded live in the studio.”

So seven musicians gathered in a rural Ontario home for the recording session. “We went straight to the point,” she says. “I wanted us to have a lot of space. We spent a few weeks in that house, creating the demos for those songs, with a skeleton crew. Then, we sent this raw material to [producer] Bryden Baird (Feist), who added sonic colours and a few other instruments sprinkled here and there, like the trumpet and percussion.”

Ribera’s trusted road companions, Jean-Sébastien Williams and Cédric Dind-Lavoie, then worked on the arrangements, and Trina Shoemaker (Sheryl Crow), was tasked with the final mix.

The “making of” video for This Island can be viewed below, and on the homepage of her website, From the opening, the stage is set, in the rural environment, the house; you wish you were there. What a way to set the table for such a feast.

Vox Sambou

Photo : Benoit Rousseau, Francofolies 2016

An interview with Vox Sambou isn’t so much be about music but about us, citizens, neighbours, friends. The singer-songwriter – who also runs the Youth Community Centre in Côte-des-Neiges (Montréal’s most ethnically diverse neighbourhood) – was born in Haiti, and is at home everywhere he goes, “as long as there’s someone next to me with whom I can share” the moment. Whether he’s talking about music or society, the artist is always animated by one main sentiment: optimism.

“Travelling is a privilege,” says Robints Paul, aka Vox Sambou, just after returning from New York, where he took part in a showcase organized by the Mundial Montréal festival. “This privilege comes from having the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. We all want the same things: to establish a connection with people and learn about their history. And when you dig even just a little, you realize that there really isn’t that much that’s different between all of us.”

That reminds us of the song “Humano Universal,” from his second album, released in 2013, Dyasporafriken. When he visits Limbé, the village where he was born and where his parents still live, at the northern tip of the country near Cap-Haïtien, he feels at home, at the heart of his story, “the cradle of the revolution. But when I fly back to Montréal, I always think to myself how good it is to be back!”

From Limbé to Montréal by way of Winnipeg and Ottawa, Sambou has followed his passion for music and people, and in doing so has become a key player of Montréal’s music scene. And also in the community life of his neighbourhood, as much in his capacity as a member of the hip-hop/funk/soul/reggae collective Nomadic Massive as with his solo project where, as a matter of fact, he’s not truly alone. His backing band is composed of eight musicians from various backgrounds and origins. His musical style is just as varied, a sonic melting pot of kompa, rap, reggae, funk and “chanson.” They come together on stage with the energy and enthusiasm that have become his trademark.

Sambou will soon take his good vibes to the United States again, having been invited to the illustrious South by Southwest festival, in Austin, Texas. Such a man as he, who seemingly takes roots in any country he visits and knows no boundaries, is quite a symbolic presence in a country led by Donald Trump.

On the morning of our interview, the New York Times publishes a story from Tijuana, in Northwestern Mexico, where Haitian refugees are crammed by the hundreds in the hope of crossing the border. “I understand that with everything that’s going on lately, it’s hard to, but we have to keep hope alive,” says Sambou. “Most of those Haitians came out of Brazil,” the country where he recorded his superb current album, The Brasil Sessions, released last year. “They were promised better living conditions than back home. But that didn’t turn out to be true, so they came to the United States, some of them losing their lives in the process…

“What we’re going through today is important: it’s time to wake up, unite, build bridges, reconnect; it’s the only way we can manage to resist,” says the musician, whose positive approach is unwavering. “That’s why we must not be afraid to speak up and denounce. We can’t just sit back because it’s happening elsewhere, in the United States, a society that’s not ours. Because if you’re honest about it, one person’s decisions can have an impact on each and every one of us. Then, I take a look around me: the huge March of Women (in major cities worldwide), demonstrations, that all makes me optimistic, because it’s proof that people are paying attention, that they are awake.”

For the musician, hope stems from the power and unity of the masses. “We see what governments are doing, what the president of the U.S. is doing, all these actions whose sole aim is to divide… But people are refusing to be divided, black people on one side, white people on the other. All people want is to live in peace. That inspires me, makes me want to write and play music: connecting with as many people as I can.”