Born on Jersey in the Channel Islands, but now resident in Alberta, Hannam gave up teaching in 2000 to follow a career as a singer-songwriter and performing musician, becoming a regular on the festival scene, both at home and in the UK. Describing himself as blue collar roots music, Love Lives On, produced by Leeroy Stagger, is his fifth album and, once again, features acoustic-based songs of ordinary working folk. Well, let’s refine that slightly – songs of ordinary working musicians. That is to say that much here concerns a gypsy soul life on the road (the uptempo ‘Roll Roll Roll’) and how that impacts on relationships, whether that the tug to settle down (barroom roots-rock ‘Over The Moon’), return home (the bluesy banjo and dobro accompanied ‘Gonna See My Love’) or the strain it can place on keeping a shared life together (the slow waltzing ‘Chasing The Song’). Some are just songs about relationships, such as the plea for forgiveness ‘Write Me Back In’ with its moody guitar and Hammond organ, and the soulful brass-accompanied ‘Molly & Me’ with its memories of a childhood sweetheart and the childhood dreams of “just dumb kids”. It’s not always about women either, Hannam’s love affairs also encompass places. On the twangy guitar sound of ‘Love Lives On’, a song about permanence that puts me in mind of Clive Gregson (elsewhere he recalls Gordon Lightfoot), he talks about his love for both the girl whose name is carved in the oak tree alongside his, but also the town in which he grew up, while both the gentle ballad ‘Labrador’ and the twinkling fingerpicked rhythm ‘Goodnight Nova Scotia’ are both songs about places loved, left and missed.
Lyrically, he has a nice line in wordplay (“we were under the stars, I was over the moon”) and many of the songs draw on images of nature, while the nimbly fingerpicked country shuffle ‘Heart For Sale’ is an extended metaphor where he playfully compares his heart to a jalopy on a used car lot, battered and its shine long dulled, but still capable of offering a sweet ride.
The album stand-out, however, isn’t to do with any of the above. Strikingly different in content and tone, ‘Man Of God’ is a quietly strummed, dusty-voiced song about the Canadian government’s forced education of First Nation children in Church-run residential in order to remove them from their indigenous heritage and assimilate them into white culture, in much the same way as the Australian government’s forced removal policy regarding the stolen generation of Aboriginal children. Some 150,000 children went through the system, many suffering physical, emotional and sexual abuse at the hands of the priests and other staff, some 4,000 dying in the process. Sung in the voice of one of the survivors, it’s a reflective, but angry and heartrending song that hits you hard as he asks “how could a Man of God do what he did, we were just children. Christ, we were just kids.” The song was also taken up by the Truth & Reconciliation Commission Of Canada and featured in the closing ceremonies in Ottawa. It alone makes Hannam well worth our attention, that he has even more offer the heart is an added bonus.
Artist’s website: www.johnworthannam.com
‘Love Lives On’ – live in Calgary: