A recent highlight in Clayton Linthicum’s rural Saskatchewan lifestyle was when he drove his truck into a cow near his parents’ ranch. This may or may not have been due to stress induced by his phobia of grasshoppers, but either way, it’s a curious background for a twenty-one year old to become steeped in the legacy of Shirley Collins, The Watersons and Davey Graham. On a visit to London in early 2015, Clayton made a beeline for Cecil Sharp House and spent a day researching English folk tradition.
His 18-year-old second cousin, Kacy Anderson, has already been christened “the new Sandy Denny”, but in contrast to many such claims made for singers in the past, this time it really is justified. The purity of her voice and the beauty of the songs the cousins create together, build on, rather than replicate the tradition of early Fairport that they love so much – but in their own unique fashion. The intricate guitar work and the bold and unexpected time changes in the title track make the song the perfect lead-in to an enormously satisfying and organic album.
Kacy and Clayton grew up six miles apart from each other in the Wood Mountain Hills, a ranching district of southern Saskatchewan. Their great-grandparents established their ranch after moving from South Dakota around 1911. When Clayton’s parents went away on holiday when he was aged just ten, he spent a week learning rhythm guitar techniques from his great Uncle Carl. Kacy and Clayton have been hanging out since they were small children but it was around 2009 that they started playing gigs at the local Wood Mountain bar. The following summer they played a few Saskatchewan festivals and club shows. In 2011 the country cover band Clayton was in played a cabaret in Chaplin, SK and it was there that he met the much older Ryan Boldt. “We bonded instantly over the music of Jean Ritchie, Shirley Collins, and Mississippi John Hurt,” says Clayton. “The following week, Kacy and I went to visit Ryan at his house in the town of Mortlach.”
Thus began the friendship and collaboration that Kacy and Clayton have with Ryan Boldt and The Deep Dark Woods. In 2013, Ryan produced Kacy and Clayton’s first album The Day Is Past & Gone, which was made up of a few songs they wrote, the rest being re-arrangements of traditional Anglo-American folk songs. Through the Deep Dark Woods (who Clayton joined on lead guitar when he was just eighteen), they became acquainted with Shuyler Jansen, a remarkable songwriter and fellow Saskatchewan resident. It was Jansen who produced the sessions for the new album, Strange Country.
“While writing and recording Strange Country, we had a certain subject matter in mind,” recalls Clayton. “For our first album, the subject matter focused on the imagery of the bible, old-time religion, and the spiritual side of things. For Strange Country, we wanted the stories and characters to portray a darker and more worldly side of life.”
Strange Country was recorded over seven freezing cold days in February 2015. The recording was done in an old community hall turned studio (Ghetto Box Studios) on the west side of Saskatoon. Producer Shuyler Jansen’s skills came in useful during the session. “Shuyler has a keen ear for the tone of those early Joe Boyd records and also a great ability when it comes to preparing crock pot meals.”
The duo had a limited amount of time to record the ten songs so the recording sessions were very focused. They recorded four of the songs with the assistance of Clayton’s Deep Dark Woods bandmate Lucas Goetz (drums) and master Regina bassist Chris Prpich. They all set up in the main room of the studio with Kacy’s vocal booth set up in the bathroom.
“Apart from the three traditional arrangements, we focused more on songwriting than we did on the last album,” Kacy explains. “Our songwriting process varies but typically one of us gets a basic idea for a song, presents it to the other, and we finish the song together. When writing songs we attempt to use the imagery and language of the old folk forms.”
So what is it that attracts these Canadian youngsters to 60s UK folk?
Clayton: “The reason we love the British folk music of that era probably has to do with the recording techniques of the time more than anything else. And if you open up a book of British folk songs, you can almost detect a melody by simply reading the lyric. The way that the syllables of the line match so perfectly with the melody of the song has had a lasting impression on me.”
Strange Country introduces two new talents in the roots world and a kind of music that folk fans will find irresistible. Just don’t mention the grasshoppers.