Music

Various Artists: Northern Stars: A Canadian Singers & Songwriters Collection

Is there someone out there thinking "if only I could find a CD that features both 'Complicated' by Avril Lavigne and Leonard Cohen's 'Suzanne', my world would be complete?"


Various Artists

Northern Stars

Subtitle: A Canadian Singers & Songwriters Collection
Label: Time Life
US Release Date: 2007-03-06
UK Release Date: 2007-03-05
Amazon
iTunes

Ah, thank goodness for Time Life. In addition to book and video series which offer encyclopedic knowledge on subjects ranging from home improvement to the "mysteries of the unknown" to military history, the company has saved CD libraries across the globe from overpopulation, keeping consumers from having to buy far too many discs in search of the songs they could find for one low price on a themed collection. The savvy compilers have struck yet again with Northern Stars: A Canadian Singers & Songwriters Collection which features 18 tracks by artists who have contributed to the canon of their country's popular music over the last 40 years.

From artists with longevity (Sarah McLachlan) to one-hit wonders (Tal Bachman), the iconic (Leonard Cohen) to the underrated (Bruce Cockburn), indie darlings (Tegan & Sara) and working-class populists (Bryan Adams), Northern Stars certainly succeeds in embracing a cross-section of Canadian artists, even spanning six decades of music. While the lineup is diverse, such diversity causes one to wonder how much forethought and methodology was put into the choice of artists. Is Northern Stars supposed to be representative of the best of Canadian singer/songwriters? If so, where are Neil Young and Joni Mitchell (or for that matter David Wilcox or Sarah Harmer)? Is the collection designed to showcase Canadian artists who have scored commercial successes? Explain then the absence of Shania Twain. Or, to go back a bit further, Gordon Lightfoot? Even Corey Hart could argue he should get a little space and some love for "Sunglasses at Night".

Also difficult to answer is the question of what specific audience the disc's producers is aiming for. Are there record buyers in Halifax or Calgary just waiting around for this album to justify their tastes or to have something that will stick it to those U.S. music journalists who just love to give Canada grief for what they perceive as the lightweight nature of the country's pop imports? Is there someone out there thinking, "If only I could find a CD that features both 'Complicated' by Avril Lavigne and Leonard Cohen's 'Suzanne', my world would be complete"? While there can be a strong case made for including all the cuts that are present, there is little if any direction or focus to dictate a clear response to the "why" questions. Perhaps licensing issues or outside factors are at play or perhaps the album is simply meant to be enjoyed for the undemanding collection of tuneful tracks that it is.

To be certain, there are some great songs here, tracks like McLachlan's "Building a Mystery" and k.d. lang's "Constant Craving", that when held up to time and scrutiny come out unscathed as shining examples of what beauty can lie in a four minute pop song. The album is front loaded with more recent (mostly '90s and beyond) radio hits, featuring McLachlan, Adams, and Lavigne as well as offerings from Nelly Furtado, Alanis Morrisette, and Barenaked Ladies. This section of the album results in a quick excursion through some of the catchier songs ("I'm Like a Bird", "Ironic", "Pinch Me", etc.) to grace multi-format radio in the past couple of decades, proving suitable for sing-alongs and nostalgic feelings, the hallmarks of Time Life compilations (or at least what seem to be the hallmarks, based on the accounts of all those satisfied customers in their infomercials).

Northern Stars' second half also contains songs whose popularity and history precede them, though a few will prove more obscure to certain audiences. The two oldest tracks on the record are here (Cohen's aforementioned "Suzanne", as well as Kate & Anna McGarrigle's 1975 duet, "Kiss and Say Goodbye"), as are contributions by lesser known artists Jim Cuddy, Chantal Kreviazuk, and Sarah Slean. Though these names may not be spoken in as many households as Adams or Lavigne, the tracks are equally as worthy of inclusion and the Kreviazuk and Slean offerings add to the healthy dose of quality female artists who make their appearance on the album, eleven in all.

While the particular grouping of artists and songs on Northern Stars may not have made anyone's short list of projects long overdue for completion, there is little filler here, very few weak links, a quality on which most compilations cannot stake a claim. As any kind of cultural or artistic statement, the album falls flat; as a look at some genuinely pleasing tracks by artists who enjoyed at least one moment in the sunlight of popular attention, this is certainly a respectable effort.

5
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

Political Cartoonist Art Young Was an Aficionado of all Things Infernal

Fantagraphics' new edition of Inferno takes Art Young's original Depression-era critique to the Trump Whitehouse -- and then drags it all to Hell.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

OK Go's Emotional New Ballad, "All Together Now", Inspired by Singer's Bout with COVID-19

Damian Kulash, lead singer for OK Go discusses his recent bout with COVID-19, how it impacted his family, and the band's latest pop delight, "All Together Now", as part of our Love in the Time of Coronavirus series.

Books

The Rules Don't Apply to These Nonconformist Novelists

Ian Haydn Smith's succinct biographies in Cult Writers: 50 Nonconformist Novelists You Need to Know entice even seasoned bibliophiles.

Music

Siren Songs' Meredith Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels Debut As a Folk Duo (album stream + interview)

Best friends and longtime musical collaborators Meredith Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels team up as Siren Songs for the uplifting folk of their eponymous LP.

Music

Buzzcocks' 1993 Comeback 'Trade Test Transmissions' Showed Punk's Great Survivors' Consistency

PopMatters' appraisal of Buzzcocks continues with the band's proper comeback LP, Trade Test Transmissions, now reissued on Cherry Red Records' new box-set, Sell You Everything.

Music

Archie Shepp, Raw Poetic, and Damu the Fudgemunk Enlighten and Enliven with 'Ocean Bridges'

Ocean Bridges is proof that genre crossovers can sound organic, and that the term "crossover" doesn't have to come loaded with gimmicky connotations. Maybe we're headed for a world in which genres are so fluid that the term is dropped altogether from the cultural lexicon.

Books

Claude McKay's 'Romance in Marseille' Is Ahead of Its Time

Claude McKay's Romance in Marseille -- only recently published -- pushes boundaries on sexuality, disability, identity -- all in gorgeous poetic prose.

Music

Christine Ott Brings the Ondes Martenot to New Heights with the Mesmerizing 'Chimères'

France's Christine Ott, known for her work as an orchestral musician and film composer, has created a unique new solo album, Chimères, that spotlights an obscure instrument.

Music

Man Alive! Is a Continued Display of the Grimy-Yet-Refined Magnetism of King Krule

Following The OOZ and its accolades, King Krule crafts a similarly hazy gem with Man Alive! that digs into his distinct aesthetic rather than forges new ground.

Books

The Kinks and Their Bad-Mannered English Decency

Mark Doyles biography of the Kinks might complement a seminar in British culture. Its tone and research prove its intent to articulate social critique through music for the masses.

Music

ONO Confronts American Racial Oppression with the Incendiary 'Red Summer'

Decades after their initial formation, legendary experimentalists ONO have made an album that's topical, vital, uncomfortable, and cathartic. Red Summer is an essential documentation of the ugliness and oppression of the United States.

Film

Silent Women Filmmakers No Longer So Silent: Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers

The works of silent filmmakers Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers were at risk of being forever lost. Kino Lorber offers their works on Blu-Ray. Three cheers for film historians and film restoration.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.