Best-of ’10:: Al Tuck All-time Favourites

For me, the release All-time Favourites is as melancholic as it is a celebration. When Al Tuck was at the height of popularity, he was a song writer that changed how Maritime song writers viewed and judged their craft. His list of celebrity fans include Chris Murphy, Jason Collett, Joel Plaskett; all ready to sing the singer’s praises when asked. Throw in the fact that reviewers showered Tuck with compliments and you can’t help but ask what went wrong? Why are his songs so highly regarded but still so unknown. How can a man whose reach extends so far be struggling in the music business?


More importantly, how can a man so destined for great things never get his break?


Tuck’s story isn’t unique; obviously musicians’ musicians like Jim Ford and The Mississippi Sheiks have influenced generations of song writers with little monetary compensation or fanfare and usually their greatness is only recognized after it’s too late, but those artists seemed hindered by situations (insanity, time, race) out of their control. For Tuck, being at the top of his game and the top of THE game when record labels packed the bars of Halifax chomping at the bit to get names on contracts, it seems almost impossible he’s still grinding it out on Indie labels. Admittedly, his mature, seasoned folk & blues wasn’t as easy to market as the grunge movement that dominated “Seattle of the North”, but I’ve always thought his chops, word play and timeless melodies deserved more.


It’s pretty fitting that an Al Tuck greatest hits (or maybe, closest misses) compilation is set to be released to little to no fanfare as the entire Internet grinds to a halt over bold ambition of Kanye West’s record. While West seems determined to make the world acknowledge his talents and obstruct the fans vision with his own grandiosity, story after story makes you think that Tuck is unconsciously obsessed with solidifying his obscurity. Whether it’s ignoring a set list mid show or stopping and starting songs with tuning issues and off-kilter banter, it seems everyone that’s tried to embrace Al’s on-stage persona is challenged to stay the course.


I can remember showing up early for an Adam Puddington CD release show a few years back, only to see Al roaming around nervously. Apparently, their was a calendar mix up and the local legend was going to open simply because he had made the trip to the city and didn’t want to jump back in the car. What should have been a treat for the few fans that showed up early degraded into an awkward set full that included traditional sea shanties and few recognizable tracks. It was as obvious then as it was when he penned the cautionary tale “One Day the Warner” so many moons ago; stardom wasn’t Tuck’s primary concern.


That’s why the stark power of the folk/blues Al delivers on All-time Favorites should stop listeners in their tracks. The chronological journey of Al’s songwriting over the course of his first four studio albums - when presented without the clanking of bottles or noisy bar patrons - solidifies his legacy. The collection explodes out of the gate with “One Day the Warner”, a Paul Simon-esque look at the state of affairs for musicians when Halifax was THE Canadian musical epicenter. If recorded and released today, the song recorded almost 20 years ago, would be a smash; super catchy hook, banjo dancing over the melody and tasteful electric noodling to thicken the mix while Al prophesizes about the potential pitfalls of signing on the dotted line. It’s exactly the type of song musicians would cover and Radio3 would have on repeat.


He follows it up with another sparkling gem, “Good and Ready”, and it become obvious that at the time, Al was crafting melodies that floated like clouds. He made everything seem easy, almost effortless, but as you get to see how his perspective and sound changed over the years you see that Al’s acclaim and probably his biggest hindrance was his obsession with evolving his sound. His Dylan-like drawl on “Hand it to You” was a sneak peak at the story telling and blues folk to which Tuck would gravitate. The click clack percussion and acoustic work of “Buddah” - my favorite Tuck song - fits Al’s epic tale of wandering perfectly, and when the drums kick in when Buddha heads to Nashville and the harmonica finishes the song, it’s easy to see why Al was revered out East like he was Dylan.


Over the years, Al’s slowed down. Playing his shows on his schedule, happy to exist on his own terms and the second half of All-Time Favourties reflects that new pace, but certainly doesn’t impact his risk taking or creativity. “Eliminate Ya” uses scratches, cymbals and sound effects to get your head nodding and helps the record flow nicely into the blues-y “Brother From Another Mother” and the smile inducing closer “Big O Me.”


I know All-Time Favourites won’t rewrite history. Al’s settled into his place in life both musical and socially and a greatest hits collection isn’t going to make people listen and take notice. Ideally though, giving people the chance to hear Tuck’s cherry picked canon, uninterrupted and without hyperbole, it will help reinforce Al promise was realized and his songwriting deserves the credit that is passed from songwriter to songwriter in dark East coast pubs and kitchen sing-alongs. At the end of the day, it’s an exercise in admitting we let another great fell through the cracks and or now forced to ask “what if?”


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MP3:: Al Tuck - Buddah


This entry was posted on Friday, November 26th, 2010 at 10:12 am and is filed under 2010, Best-of '10, Canada, Halifax, Music, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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