CD review: CAUGHT BETWEEN THE SHADOWS
By Rachel Jagt
The album CAUGHT BETWEEN SHADOWS is Nova Scotia singer-songwriter Dave Gunning's second and most recent independent release. It is a collection of original songs and rearrangements of traditional tunes; and it includes covers of three songs which are close to his heart. Backing up his vocals are beautiful instrumental compositions, featuring skilled playing by Gunning (guitar, bass, percussion), J.P. Cormier (fiddle), and Dave Burton (drums, synth pad, piano, keys, percussion, box and brushes), to name but three.
My first impression, which has stayed with me, is that this is a very professional recording, and that it displays an unselfconscious honesty in its lyrics and music. Many of the songs on this record have a distinctly Celtic feel, but Cormier's fiddle playing is understated and dignified rather than overpowering. I would call it folk/pop before Celtic, even taking into account traditional tunes "Kate o' the Gowrie," to which Gunning added his own lyrics, and "The Barnyards of Delgaty," which is Gunning's arrangement (with songwriting partner John Meir) of a very old Scottish folk song.
The opening track, "Here She Comes a-Running" is an upbeat, wistful love song with a radio-friendly melody. It has traditional Celtic lyrics, but was written by Gunning. I don't think that his future as a songwriter is in any jeopardy. He shows versatility by switching to a contemporary focus in "Time Slips Away," a sad tribute to missed opportunities. Ron MacDonald joins Gunning on the piano, capturing the mood perfectly. Two songs about houses follow. "House Painted Green" is really more about following your dreams than houses - because dreams are far less constant than houses. There's a really cool muted electric guitar that opens the song and punctuates Gunning's own accomplished acoustic playing. "House By the Stream," which Gunning wrote with Burton and Meir, is a tribute to a man who would always wave as people passed by his house. This is a little glimpse into one of the stories that is part of that friendliness for which eastern Canada is known. The acoustic guitar really makes this song.
My favourite track is next, Denis Conn's "The Miner's Song," made popular by John Allan Cameron. With the opening "Billy's first breath was the last of his mother/He was born on the shores of a town called Glace Bay," Gunning dedicates the song to the men who died in the Westray mine disaster. This is a beautiful song; the emotion in Gunning's voice and Cormier's fiddle accompaniment really suit the melancholy, serious message of the song. I've been to Glace Bay, and I've been in the mine. This song captures the sadness that hangs over it. Cormier's fiddle introduces the love song ''Shadow Over Me," which charmed me mostly because of Gunning's unique Nova Scotia accent; he has an unusual delivery and a gentle voice.
In "Oceans of the Heart," Gunning actually really sounds like his friend Cormier, who wrote the song. It is a trademark Cormier song: simple and true. On this track, as well as on all but one of the rest, Gunning does his own harmony vocal, which adds an interesting dimension to the sound. His interpretation of Gordon Lightfoot's "Shadows" is quite good - the traditional folk chorus is an upbeat and positive expression of carefree love.
The next original work is "Taxi Phone," dedicated to the memory of Bobby LeBlanc, a Nova Scotia cab driver who was murdered. He tells the story from the perspective of the man's young son. It is poignant and sad and really shows Gunning's depths as a songwriter; when he had the opportunity to play the song for LeBlanc's widow, she was overcome by how closely the song paralleled what she and her son went through when they heard the news.
The final two tracks, "Road Ahead," co-written with Meir and Cormier; and "Dream Catcher," co-written with Randy MacDonald, are about trust and dreams. Well-written lyrics and music are secondary to the purity of the artist's voice. Gunning has a gentleness, a tenderness, that should make him difficult to listen to - but the emotion in his voice, the real honesty of the songs, makes you sit up and take notice. I expect to hear much more from this talented young singer-songwriter.