Songs from the Lost & Found
Songs from the Lost & Found
Back when I was young pup on the folk scene, Ottawa-based David Wiffen was one of the emerging Canadian artists we all seemed to be listening to.
His first LP, Live at the Bunkhouse Coffeehouse, Vancouver, BC, recorded in 1965, showcased the young Wiffen lending his deep baritone to more than credible versions of such folk standards including Ian Tyson’s “Four Strong Winds” and Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.”
He then spent some time playing in bands like The Children with Bruce Cockburn, Peter Hodgson (the future Sneezy Waters) and Richard Patterson, and 3’s a Crowd before emerging as a significant singer-songwriter on his second solo LP, 1971’s eponymously named David Wiffen. Three of the songs from that album, “Driving Wheel,” “Mr. Wiffen,” and “More Often Than Not,” insightfully captured the realities of musicians’ lives and found their ways into the repertoires of such artists as Tom Rush, Ian & Sylvia, Jerry Jeff Walker, Harry Belafonte and many others.
His third LP, 1973’s Coast to Coast Fever, was produced by Bruce Cockburn and was an essential album of the era filled with memorable songs like the title track, “Skybound Station,” and a cover of “White Lines,” which introduced us to the young songwriter Willie P. Bennett. That album might have made Wiffen a star, but for whatever reasons, including personal demons, he gradually withdrew from public view until coming back, briefly, in 1999 with South of Somewhere, a CD that included some new material and re-recordings of some of his earlier material.
During the ‘70s and ‘80s, though, he did maintain some activity in the studio laying down versions of some of the songs he was writing – including five songs that would later be re-recorded for South of Somewhere. I don’t know if these were just recorded as demos or if they were tracks for a planned album, but the tapes were presumed lost for decades. But they turned up recently and many years later have been assembled as Songs from the Lost & Found.
While this new album is not as focused as his earlier LPs – it was, after all, recorded over a period of a decade-and-a-half with several different producers and sets of studio musicians – it is an important and worthy addition to Wiffen’s discography and includes 17 songs: 15 from Wiffen’s pen as well as fine versions of Lynn Miles’ “Crazy Me,” which I’d never heard before, and Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’ “No Expectations,” one of my all-time favorite Rolling Stones songs.
Beyond the five songs recut for South of Somewhere and the two covers, there are 10 Wiffen originals that most of us are hearing for the first time on Songs from the Lost & Found. Among my favorites are “Ballad of Jacob Marlowe,” a traditional-sounding story song; “Your Room,” an introspective break-up song with a lovely jazz-influenced melody; “Any Other Rainy Day (aka Distant Star),” which reminds of those insightful songs I mentioned from David Wiffen that captured the realities of musicians’ lives; and “Rocking Chair World,” a vivid portrait of an serene early morning and the thoughts it provokes that eventually fades into nighttime, sleep and dreams.
Mr. Wiffen has been incommunicado for far too long. It’s great to hear his voice again.By the way, he’ll be doing a rare interview on Canadian Spaces on CKCU this coming Saturday, February 7 to talk about the album.