CLASSIC: Joan Kennedy

There are very few online resources for Canadian country music that aren’t exclusively fan-oriented and/or associated with the here-today-gone-tomorrow machinations of the national industry.  Those who had national careers are left to their own devices when the major labels are finished with them.  (To wit: you know Julian Austin still records and performs, right?)

How would someone like Julian Austin be classified now?  Just “independent,” I suppose.  Your average Canadian country music fan doesn’t care about indy versus major label (… uh) labeling, though.  His last album was released in 2009 so you can’t really say he’s a “classic” artist, either.  There’s a continuity missing here that I find intriguing.

The national country music industry is dependent on radio to reach its sales objectives — and CMT to a degree, I suppose — and, because radio is such a passive medium, the opportunity for fans to just uncritically drink whatever the local station is offering is too great.  If we were made to be fans of a Julian Austin in 1998 and we haven’t heard any new music in the past while (coincidentally since he left the major label), then the fans are left to assume he must not want to record anymore — because why would radio not play the new stuff?!

I was listening to Michael Stelzner’s interview with Seth Godin yesterday and he mentioned, among other things, the (now recurring) idea that technologies — our collective step away from the century-long industrial revolution into collaborative and connection-based work — are enabling individuals to emerge from the passive masses.  This blog, for example, exists for two reasons: I want to start a conversation about the industry from a consumer/end-user perspective, and; it costs very little for me to do it.

As I write this, I’m packing my house up to move.  On the lowest shelf of a wall of CDs I found Joan Kennedy’s A Dozen Red Roses album from 1996.  It’s rightfully not labeled a greatest hits collection, though the biggest songs render it unmistakably a collection of some sort: “Candle In the Window,” “Talk to My Heart,” “Family Pride,” each of them from one of the five albums she’s released.

The liner notes read: “A Dozen Red Roses features nine of her most popuar, most requested hits — and some surprises!” and, though there are included some quippy quotes regarding each title, there isn’t any great delineation between the singles and the new recordings.

As an aficionado of the music, I’m continually in search of those historical snapshots these old singles can conjure.  A song like “Don’t Look in My Eyes” just sounds like Canadian country in the mid-1980’s.  If I close my eyes, I can hear a song like that one flowing from the radio in the kitchen down the hall through my door and into my bedroom in those early mornings as I awoke when I was a boy.  It’s sometimes a psychological mindgame I’m playing, but I love reconnecting with a long-forgotten song that was (for however long) ubiquitous locally.

“Just Can’t Let Go” is still, twenty-three years later, a gorgeous song.  I  was 13 when it was new, when the Kingston radio station played it faithfully.  I can still hear one of the DJs saying “I think this one’s gonna go all the way, even in the States!”  Of course it didn’t and I may be one of a handful who remember the song today but it’s always been a favourite, one of those that I don’t play all that often because I want my association with it to remain connected to that time and place.

Problem for you: it’s not available anywhere.  Nobody has uploaded the song to YouTube, that repository of all things audio/video.  Amazon has three used copies of the CD Candle In the Window (though there’s no photo on the page, and a tracklisting that’s easy to miss).  Don’t waste your time even checking iTunes.

Yet I think we’re on the cusp of something big in this regard.  Just the fact that I’m here now writing about it proves the interest exists.  That there are a handful of Joan Kennedy clips availalbe on YouTube already (see below) supports it.  Perhaps it’s just that I’m getting older, and seeing that the technology exists, that makes the preservation of these older recordings so important and necessary.  But I hope that’s not it.

(This was originally posted to my previous site Critically Country on August 29, 2013)