Alberta Gold or It’s Gonna Work Out Fine – What’s Behind the Music of the East Coast?

Written by Lisa Hrabluk

Best-selling author. Award-winning journalist. Purpose-led entrepreneur. Find me hanging out where culture, people and ideas collide.

January 30, 2014

Hey music lovers – I need your help. I’m making a playlist about chasing opportunity on the East Coast. I got the idea listening to Tom Power, host of CBC Radio 2 Morning, and his Jan. 28th intro to Matt Andersen‘s new single ‘Alberta Gold’. In his praise of the song, Tom quite rightly credits Matt with detailing a very real experience for Easterners heading to Alberta for work.

That got me thinking about all the other songs I have heard performed by East Coast artists over the years and the songs that get belted out by audiences in bars and concert halls. When I moved here from southern Ontario in 1997, Great Big Sea‘s album ‘Play’ was on the CD player as I drove into Saint John for the first time. It includes the bouncy ‘Seagulls’, with its lyrics: ‘She left St. John’s one day in May/ Dressed in her Sunday best/ A kind man sat beside her/ While she cried her way out West…’ (Sorry gang, can’t find video for this one!)

After I joined the newsroom at the Telegraph-Journal and the Saint John Times-Globe, my colleagues quickly set out to introduce me to East Coast culture and did so with two songs – Stan Rogers‘ ‘Barrett’s Privateers’ and Ron Hynes‘ ‘Sonny’s Dream’ – which as anyone who lives here knows, are best performed by a crowd in a bar at last call. One is about a ‘broken man on a Halifax pier’ …

…and the other about homebound Sonny who ‘longs in his mind for the wild world outside’.

Matt Andersen is in good company singing about a life beyond the Atlantic coast.

But other artists mine a different vein, about the ones who stay.  Joel Plaskett and the Emergency sing about watching friends leave in ‘Work Out Fine’ – ‘All my friends/ Where did they go?/ To Montreal – Toronto/ All my friends/ They split too soon/ They split town with the fork and the spoon…’

Islander Whitney Rose’s single ‘East Coast Woman Blues’ is a lament for ‘You and all the willing rest/ You packed your bags and headed West/ Gave us the life we’re living now/ That’s more than any vow, I know/ I just wish you were home’.

Then there’s Josh Martinez and ‘Going Back to Hali’, which features Classified and Skratch Bastid, rhyming about the old neighbourhood – a great place to visit.

And I’d add David Myles’ ‘Don’t Drive Right Through’, which is a fun song from a few years ago that is a nodding wink to New Brunswick’s reputation as Canada’s Drive Through Province. ‘Oh, you’ve heard about New Brunswick/ But I bet you never knew/ All the things that you’ll miss/ If you drive right through’.

Friends on Facebook added to my list with:

Stan Rogers – Free in the Harbour; California; The Idiot

Ron Hynes – No Change in Me; Blood and Bones

Dave Gunning – House for Sale

Great Big Sea – Nothing Out of Nothing

Les Trois Accords – Saskatchewan

Irish Descendants – Won’t Be Coming Back

Joel Plaskett Emergency – Love This Town

Stompin’ Tom Connors – New Brunswick and Mary

John Allan Cameron – Heading for Halifax

Lennie Gallant – Which Way Does the River Run

Other friends rightly pointed out these East Coast artists are part of a wider tradition that records the mixed emotions of migrant cultures, that includes classics such The Pogues‘ ‘Thousands are Sailing’, Ian and Sylvia‘s ‘Four Strong Winds’, Bruce Springsteen‘s ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’, Corb Lund‘s ‘Long Gone to Saskatchewan’ and a healthy portion of Gordon Lightfoot‘s work, including ‘Early Morning Rain’ and ‘Alberta Bound’ – which, as my mom will tell you, I sang at the top of my three-year-old lungs in a campsite bathroom stall somewhere between Wawa and Calgary in the summer of 1973.

And finally, because my people are the original video generation, the Pet Shop Boys’ ‘Go West’.

Okay, that’s what I’ve got so far. What East Coast artists’ songs would you add to the list? Why do you like them and what do they mean to you?

Post ’em if you got ’em.

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