Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ron Hynes -- Stealing Genius

Stealing Genius
Borealis Records

Ron Hynes, the pride of St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, is, without question, one of Canada’s greatest singer-songwriters – a writer whose genius can be found in decades worth of great songs.

Ron calls his new album Stealing Genius because most of its songs are inspired by specific works written by several poets and novelists, mostly from Newfoundland along with one American. In some songs, Ron actually gives the inspiring writer a co-writing credit.

The album opens with “Blood and Bones,” a song inspired by What They Wanted, a novel about a family’s resettlement by Donna Morrissey. It’s a familiar story that Ron sings about: a family forced to leave their home for someplace new because the work is no longer there. In this case, presumably, it’s the local fishery that’s no longer viable as “the ocean died like late night embers in the stove.” Ron’s lyrics and his singing seem to combine poignancy with regret and a hint of anger.

Morrissey’s book, as well as Michael Crummy’s The Wreckage, inspired “My Father’s Ghost,” a song that is both a remembrance from long ago of discovering a father’s death and a brilliantly drawn contemporary portrait of a lonely life in sea coast village.

In “House,” inspired by Stan Dragland’s Stormy Weather: Foursomes, Ron sings about an old house as the shell for the lost love that no longer lives within its walls.

“I Love You More Than God” and “Love and Hunger” are two stunning love songs based on poems by Des Walsh and which are reminiscent of the great romantic poets.

One of my favourite songs in the set is "30 For 60," inspired by a poem by Al Pittman, that's a powerful portrait of a man, no longer young, damning his regrets.

One song that takes its inspiration from an American book is “Judgement,” a song based on Ron Hansen’s The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. Ron sings from the perspective of Ford trying to rationalize his act.

As a singer, Ron knows exactly how to communicate the essence of the songs to his listeners and the arrangements, featuring such musicians as Paul Mills (who also produced the album), Alec Fraser, Tom Leighton and Burke Carroll, frame the songs almost perfectly.

Stealing Genius represents the finest set of original songwriting to be released in Canada this year.

--Mike Regenstreif

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