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Friday, August 14, 2009

Knox's CanCon Gems - The Greatest Canadian Albums of All-Time (That You've Probably Never Heard) - Volume 1

A quick glance at the title of this series may have you suddenly thinking of Neil Young, BTO, The Tragically Hip, Nickleback or other Canuck bands that have hit the big time.  Some of those bands have enjoyed critical acclaim as part of their rise to the Top (Young), while others have not (arguably Nickleback).  What this series pre-supposes is that there are many a Canadian band out there who despite perhaps enjoying some degree of commercial success or critical acclaim, have never really received their due.

The subject of the first post in this series will focus on a little band from Kingston, Ontario, who despite enjoying some surging popularity in the mid-90's as part of the Canadian Celtic craze that saw previously unnkown (largely) bands like Great Big Sea rocket to the top, never really did take their proper place high above the ordinary Canadian musical landscape - The Mahones.

The Mahones first real album, Draggin The Days and its flurry of great original songs including "Drunkin' Lazy Bastard" and the title-track, "Draggin' The Days", along with stellar covers like "Raggle Taggle Gypsy" and "Star of the County Down" (the best version of this song ever recorded) was almost the subject matter of this post, and other great Mahones albums like The Hellfire Club Sessions and Here Comes Lucky are worthy of mention, it is their Rise Again album which takes the honour of Knox's inaugural installment in this series focused on CanCon gold.

Rise Again, represented somewhat of a departure or change in direction for the Mahones (if you can have one after only one or two albums) in that it wasn't simply an album of "jump up and down with a beer in your hand" pub anthems but instead, saw the band gain focus and a degree of songwriting and musicianship that was largely unexpected by most listeners and even hardcore fans that had jumped on board after listening to the first album.  Sure, the "jump up and down" songs are still there ("Down The Boozer (The Bricklayers' Song"), "100 Bucks" and "Paint The Town Red") and they are outstanding, but this album also has depth and breadth in that it also includes up-tempo, but thoughtful, numbers like "Streets of New York" (which never lets me down in conjuring up memories of my youth and collegiate years) and "Holloway Jack" ( the tale of doomed men aboard a prison ship bound for Australia) and self-reflective and somewhat sullen songs like "One Star Hotel" in which Mahones frontman/singer-songwriter Finny McConnell looks inward and evaluates whether or not being on a drunken "road to nowhere" is a bad thing.  As seems to be typical of Mahones albums, the title-track "Rise Again" is also a highlight and formed the centerpiece of the first set when Knox's old band took the stage (or garage or.......um.....living room).

Probably not coincidentally, this album also features one of the strongest line-ups that the band would ever have with McConnell and the now departed (sadly) Andrew J. Brown forming its core, along with Owen Warnica on bass, among others.  In my view, while the band is still a great live act, the music has suffered to some degree as their sound has changed from well-written celtic-influenced songs (second only to the Pogues) to a constant barrage of celtic-punk in the vein of the Dropkick Murphys for example.  I suspect that the change has been embraced by many of their fans but to Knox, the Mahones best sounds flow from the past, although there is still hope for a future shift back.

Anyway, if you can find this album, grab it.  I've been listening to it for 13 years now and it is never far from my rotation, quitely begging for a spot in the CD player when it isn't in there.

Posted by Knox Harrington on August 14, 2009 in Music | Permalink


Here's three that should be on your list. I believe all are still actively recording and touring.

The Weakerthans - Left and Leaving

Broken Social Scene - You Forgot it in People

The Constantines - Shine a Light

Posted by: The Stig | 2009-08-14 2:12:36 PM

Let me add a few to the list:

Mother Mother: O My Heart

The Dudes: Brain Heart Guitar (old), Blood Guts Bruises Cuts (new).

Metric: Grow up and blow away.

Alexisonfire (not really my cup of tea, but I know their good if you like a punk-ish sort of sound): Young Cardinals.

Posted by: P.M. Jaworski | 2009-08-14 4:53:23 PM

It's about Feckin time!! Rise Again is one of the greatest Canadian albums ever! Love all the Mahones (well, Cocktail Blue maybe no) But Rise Again is a gem. Well written. Streets of New York!!

Posted by: Downtheboozer | 2009-08-20 7:14:19 AM

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