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Music Review: John Wort Hannam – Queen’s Hotel

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So what do you do when you become disenchanted with being a public school teacher of language arts? You take up the guitar and become a noted Canadian folk singer/songwriter.

John Wort Hannam spent five years teaching ninth grade on the largest Native American reserve in Canada. In 1997 he became attracted to the music of Loudon Wainwright III and five years later left the teaching profession behind to become a musician. Queen’s Hotel is his fourth album release to date.

He writes his own material — he's basically a storyteller — and when combined with his music, he fits squarely into the modern folk tradition. Songs of immigration, family, life in a small town, and anthems all succumb to his gentle touch.

All the songs were recorded in one live take. The musicians sat in a circle and just cruised through the material. Hannam accompanies himself on guitar and receives able support from producer, electric guitarist, keyboardist and dobro player Steve Dawson, mandolin player John Reischman, bassist Rob Becker, accordion player Tyler Bird, and drummer Geoff Hicks. Jenny Whiteley sings the duet parts and Jeanne Tolmie provides the background vocals. They are a tight outfit and work well together, making this a well produced and overall excellent independent release.

These are stories of the Canadian prairie. “With The Grain” — which won the grand prize at the 2009 Calgary Folk Music Festival Songwriting Competition — is a conversation put to music of his father’s reaction to his decision to become a musician. “Requiem For A Small Town” is a look at a struggling community that never quite makes it. “Church Of The Long Grass” is a beautiful song of western Canada. “Lucky Strikes” is about a visit to Fort Macleod’s famous, or infamous to be more accurate, Queen’s Hotel.

Hannam keeps the whole affair simple, which given the style and textures of his music, is a wise decision. His years on the road have given him the ability to create and record memorable music. Not bad for a former public school teacher.

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