For my age group, I am an anomaly.
I grew up in what was an incredible golden age of Canadian-based alternative and rock bands. The Tea Party, Big Sugar, I Mother Earth, Moist, The Tragically Hip, these bands all produced huge selling, seminal works in their catalog. Bands like Treble Charger, Killjoys and Rainbow Butt Monkeys, were blowing away teenagers left and right during my teen years of the 1990’s.
Yet, the album from that decade that I identify with best isn’t from any of these bands. They definitely weren’t “alternative” unless you use the word under what it really means, an alternative from everything else.
It’s really hard to describe this album. Is it country? Kind of, I guess? I mean, it’s very acoustic based and has a lot of country elements but it definitely doesn’t really sound like the country music of the time. Does it have rock songs on it? Oh yes, it does have one or two rockers on it. It’s also got a few ballads.
With all apologies to The Tragically Hip, when I think of the sound of my home and native land, this is the album and band I think of.
Five Days in July was recorded in well… five days in July in 1993. The main recordings were done at band member Greg Keelor’s farm. As the story goes, the recordings were to initially serve as demos but the band liked the sound they had achieved the decided to stick with them.
And is it a good thing that they did.
There is a warmth to the sound of this album that makes it stand out. It sounds like it was recorded at on a farm or at someone’s cottage. It feels like sitting on the deck and watching a bunch of your musician friends break out the instruments for fun. Just, in this case, your friends are really good musicians and songwriters. Much like those group sing-alongs, the guys pass the spotlight back and forth and when they need it, they aren’t afraid of letting others get involved for a song or two. I’m not sure who said it first, but someone compared it to Neil Young’s Harvest, and I can definitely hear where they are coming from in terms that it kind of defies genres.
Now while the sound of an album can be a great asset, it’s the quality of the music that will make or break one. In this case, Five Days in July is very much an “all killer, no filler” record. Listening to it with a critical ear for this writing, I could pick out songs that are maybe not as good as the others but you look at the tracks as a whole album and you take away that one song, it seems to make the album less than it was, not better. It works as an album. It speeds up when it needs to, slows down when it needs to, it’s perfectly paced.
For me, the stand out songs are “Five Days in May,” “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet,” and “Bad Timing.” The amazing thing is that these were all released as singles and they are just so good in their own ways. “Five Days in May” and “Bad Timing” are just the loveliest of love songs told through different lenses. “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet” has always struck me as a great track because it’s essentially a breakup song but it takes that break up with a certain amount of humor. It’s always struck me, interestingly enough, as a quintessential Canadian song. It’s got our humor, it sounds like it was recorded at a cottage, and it has mentions of Lake Ontario but it doesn’t beat you over the head with its Canadian-ness.
And on a personal note, it was a song I could sing along to around the campfire as it’s in my very limited vocal range.
The sleeper song that, for the life of me I have no idea why, doesn’t get as much attention as some of the others is “What is This Love,” featuring backup vocals by Sarah McLachlan. What really strikes me about this song beyond its great lyrics and perfectly put together music, is the fact that no one has covered it yet, especially Sarah as it really seems like it was a song tailored to her strengths and sound. Not that Greg Keelor’s a slouch in this department. His vocals combined with Sarah’s voice floating behind him just hit that sweet spot.
I often regard Five Days in July and Blue Rodeo as one of those secret musical weapons of Canada. For whatever reason, they do okay abroad but have never quite kicked that door off its hinges, unlike some other acts. For example, take the Crash Test Dummies. The same day Five Days in July was released in Canada, the Crash Test Dummies’ God Shuffled His Feet was released worldwide and did exceptionally well in the United States due to the success of “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm.” However, when the dust cleared, Five Days in July sold better in Canada than God Shuffled His Feet.
And no offense to the Crash Test Dummies, I think it holds up much better as well.
To the American readers, take a listen to the album, you might be kind of surprised at this little band out of Toronto.
Next week, we’ve done a lot of lighter music the last little while, it’s time to fall down a dark hole and grind a way with some doom, gloom, and metal.