Artist: Mike Plume Band
CD Review: 8:30 NEWFOUNDLAND
By: Dan Brisebois
Wait a few years, and the title track to his new album might very well be looked at as the quintessential three and a half minutes of Canadiana. But Mike Plume said "8:30 Newfoundland" couldn't have taken shape, had he not moved to Nashville a few years ago. Having lived everywhere from his birthplace in rural New Brunswick, growing up in Bonnyville, and when he first started out as a songwriter in Toronto were also keys.
"I can guarantee you I couldn't write a song like that while sitting in a ditch outside Glendon. The old cliché that you have to be away to realize how important home is, is very true. Living in the US gives you a totally different slant. Writing that song, I certainly developed intense pride during the last US election. My Canadian flag shot through the roof. I think that might have had as much to do with it as anything. Right out of the gate I could tell where the song wanted to go, it was just a matter of getting it to go there. But I knew it had the potential to be something special, for sure," he said.
It's not the sort of song that gets hammered out during commercials in a hockey game, he added. "It took a year and a half of writing while walking my dogs, something that happens a lot. I just tried to write about places Canadians know - besides downtown Toronto. My publisher lives in the US, and she thought 8:30 Newfoundland was a street address. At the end of the day, she might be right."
Steering a song in the right direction is always the tough part, typical to Plume's nature in general, and sums up his career. His resume is impressive - quietly gaining a steady, but loyal following while recording nine previous albums. But he said he wouldn't have it any other way, noting the drawback to some career paths today is some artists are given keys to a door that open easier, but can be closed on them even easier. Contest based reality TV is a perfect example, he added, because they don't learn the other aspects of the business.
"Maybe I'm just jealous, and yes, some of these guys have been kicking around at it for awhile. But some don't really get to build their fan base one brick at a time. They win the big contest, and so the record company puts up these two big pillars with a two-by-four across them. And that's where they put these guys' careers – on this fake floor 20 feet up. If it doesn't take off, they just knock the pillars out and the artist plummets to the depths of not following their dreams any further," he commented. "But if you're out there slugging it out one fan at a time and each fan is a brick, you tend not to fall as far when you strike out. It's a lot easier to get back up again."
He's co-written material in the past with some of Canada's brightest rising stars, including Jake Matthews, Luke Doucet, and Corb Lund. On 8:30 Newfoundland, some more friends return the favour - including Jason McCoy, Trevor Rosen, Brian Byrne, and Clayton Bellamy. "Clayton lives not far from me and he just seems to be on my doorstep a lot, so we ended up writing a few things together, same with Jason."
Plume confessed he has an approach to songwriting that isn't typical, with half-written tunes sitting on the shelf, often for a year or more. Still, his process has evolved while he realized that too much thought should never be put into it. "I'm a firm believer that the song will predict how it needs to be performed in the studio. The key is to not get in the way of it, even though I've been guilty of it countless times. Steve Earle said it best - the magic begins in the first verse or maybe the chorus. The work begins with the second verse. With me, the melody usually comes first - once that happens, I just wing it. I'm sure I see songs in a different slant when I haven't looked at them for awhile - a lot like you see your shadow differently at different times of the day. These songs might have taken a year and a half to finish, but they took that long for me to tweak them to the point where I felt they were finished - a bridge here, a line there," he said.
"It wasn't always like that. I was one of those jerks that thought if I wasn't done a song in five minutes that it either wasn't good enough to finish, or that there was something wrong with me. I read somewhere Bob Dylan did that, and I figured I was as good as he was. If he could do it, so could I. I was wrong. Being young and stupid I thought I had to do that to be any good. Hank and Johnny were masters of the five- minute hit. They'd write four or five a day – I'm way behind," he laughed.
The ingredients to 8:30 NEWFOUNDLAND are 13 tracks, each with its own texture, spice and flavour. Blending them together is not only pleasing to the pallet, but add up to his most diverse album to date, his first in over eight years.
""Free" could be the next single for country radio. It's got that kind of fat feel to it with a good story and a good beat you can dance to," Plume said, admitting he doesn't necessarily write for the record label, which is why he leaves the 'next single decision' to mindless suits in ivory towers.
The 'take it easy, it all works out in the end' message behind "Half Full Is The Cup" has a slick calypso feel. Along with "Stay Where Yer To" (complete with a harmonica solo and Bo Diddley feel), "Weeds" and "Like A Bullet From A Gun," they all have this simple, raw groove that's all too rare today.
"Give A Little To Get A Little Back" is laced with the steel guitar that pops up now and then throughout the album - showcasing his traditional country roots, although it can't be pegged definitively into any one single genre.
"Mine All Mine"'s underlying keyboards and flamenco guitar highlight a smooth, laid-back balladeer sensibility in the vein of a classic Blue Rodeo or Neil Young song – pegged by Plume as being "greasy and slinky."
"Keeping Time With The Telephone Pole" is powered by a straight ahead, no frills country riff that makes it the slickest driving tunes from anyone in years - and another natural radio single.
"There's Nothing I Don't Love About You" is one of those simple love songs Plume admits all country artists are practically forced to include in an album, and could also hold its own on stations' play lists.
"More Than A Game" could go down as the second best hockey song ever written, but Plume laughed at the suggestion he could ever overtake Stompin' Tom Connors' "The Hockey Song" for that title. "Another key to writing a good song is knowing when you've already been beat, so then you just write for yourself."