Sadly, most of us here in the U.S. are blissfully unaware of performers that don't hail from one of the 50 states. Ask the average Joe on the street if they know of any Canadian musicians, and if you get any response, you'll hear Celine Dion or Shania Twain, maybe even Bryan Adams or Neil Young. While these are certainly talented musicians in their own right, they certainly do not represent the breadth and depth of the Canadian music scene. Some of the ignorance is due to the cultural similarities between ourselves and our neighbors to the North.
Pop/punk sensation Avril Lavigne is so popular with the tweener set here in the U.S. precisely because she looks and sounds like she could have stepped off of any high school campus in middle America. But aside from such superstars as Alanis Morrisette and Rush who have transcended any national boundaries and become truly international, Canadian musicians have plenty to offer the world in terms of exciting and fresh music. I would like to offer a few suggestions in various categories, and perhaps with a casual listen, you'll discover like I did that the Great White North has more to offer than a few tasty brews.
Where would any serious discussion of contemporary Canadian rock be without including Nickelback, originally out of Hanna, Alberta, but now based in Vancouver. With smash hits like "Photograph" and "How You Remind Me", it's hard to come up with a more successful Canadian group over the last few years. Ontario based Shaker is an up-and-coming act that is beginning to show great promise. Their first full-length release, "Throw Your Good Side On", is scheduled to be released this year (2006).
Shaker reminds me of a less-bluesy version of "The Black Crows", however, the inflection of vocalist Daniel Brooks is like nothing so much as a latter day version of fellow Canadian vocalist Tom Cochrane. Nelly Furtado continues to impress with her latest effort, "Loose". As usual for Furtado, she continues to explore new ground with her songwriting and looks to continue doing so well into the future. Vancouver based Jakalope is an interesting act that fails to be categorized, alternately sounding like anything from The Smashing Pumpkins to Evanesence to a meth'ed up Madonna, they never fail to be interesting.
In the world of hip-hop, no Canadian group seems as poised for superstardom as Dead Celebrity Status. Their first album, "Blood Music" hit the streets to great reviews. Originally formed as a duo, Project Wyze, in 1988, they have since added mix-master DJ Dopey and have shared a stage with Ozzy Osbourne and Public Enemy. Their impressive performances have given them the juice to add appearances by Dave Navarro, Joss Stone and Bif Naked to their recordings.
I failed to mention Crash Test Dummies, one of the more promising bands from Winnipeg, due to the uncertainty about their future status. They were enormously influential from about the mid-1990's to their last release in 2004. It is unfortunate that apparently artistic differences have taken their toll on the Dummies.
Canadian singers have made tremendous strides in country music over the last several years and dusky voiced Kathleen Edwards is no exception. Her 2005 release "Back to Me" won her critical acclaim in the U.S., appearing on the David Letterman and Jay Leno shows and opening for Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. No less interesting, though decidedly more alternative, the Cowboy Junkies have made a career of turning country music on its head. From sultry renditions of Patsy Cline's "Walking After Midnight" on their 1998 disc "The Trinity Session" to the folkie "Two Soldiers" from 2005's "Early 21st Century Blues", which is eerily reminiscent of the 1970's protest anthems of Dylan and Lennon.
Ontario bred Grievous Angels is certainly one of the most interesting country acts to come along in recent years. Blending new beats, along the lines of the country-pop sounds of Keith Urban and the Dixie Chicks, with the twangy sounds of early 1970's country music. Unfortunately, their once promising career appears to have stalled with the entry of singer Charlie Angus into the political arena – having been elected to Parliament in 2004. It is hoped that once Mr. Angus has served his term that he will return to making music once again, however, at this time that prospect remains uncertain. One also cannot forget the irrepressible k.d. lang, though to refer to her as a purely country act would be selling her short. Lang's amazing vocal talents have been employed on everything from contemporary country to torch songs to pop standards and back again. Her versatility and vocal range are legendary and not listing of Canadian musicians would be complete without her.
Alas, this article is too short to be truly inclusive, but I could not get by without listing two of my all-time favorites. Sue Foley and Diana Krall are two of the most impressive musical talents Canada has to offer, and as a citizen of the U.S., I must thank Canada for these two wonderful chanteuses. Foley, a blues guitarist/singer/songwriter from Ottawa, honed her chops primarily in Austin, Texas, but oddly enough, is rarely recognized in the U.S. except amongst blues enthusiasts. A true virtuoso on guitar with an unusual but delightfully reedy quality to her voice, she has managed to impress some of the biggest names in the business including, B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Koko Taylor.