Well, 2019 is certainly going out with a bang. In a period that’s normally characterised by back catalogue compilations and TV stars covering standards, the roots and Americana scene is still alive and kicking, particularly on Steve Dawson’s Black Hen label. “If Wishes Were Horses” is Alberta-based Matt Patershuk’s fourth album and it’s a very fine piece of work indeed. At first glance it appears to weigh in as a bit of a heavyweight with fifteen tracks, but it features four short instrumental fragments with the same leitmotif (more about that later), giving the album a fairly standard twelve-song running time.

Matt’s songs tend to simplicity on the surface, while tapping into universal truths about life, love, work and loss, but he likes to look at things through a different lens, lyrically and musically, creating a patchwork quality to the album, which is knitted together by the four short instrumental fragments (titled “Horses” and representing wishes). Each of these fragments weaves a different arrangement around a common melody; all are atmospheric with a cinematic quality using a variety of instruments and textures to create the links pulling the album together. “Horse 1 (For Bravery and Good Fortune)” is an interesting mix of Dick Dale and Ennio Morricone topped off with some very Sixties-sounding organ lines; the other wishes are equally enigmatic.

The album is packed with intriguing and memorable songs across a range of styles from old country to sweaty blues and it’s difficult to pick favourites, but let’s give it a try. The two songs telling stories of Ernest Tubb and Albert King (“Ernest Tubb had Fuzzy Slippers” and “Velvet Bulldozer”) are beautifully-drawn evocations of different stages in the musician’s journey. “Alberta Waltz” highlights the contrast between what people do to live and how they escape from it – ‘Dancing is for dreamers and lovers and fools’, while “Circus” describes a world where the everyday routine is grotesque and fantastical, but people still fall in love and get married. And let’s not forget “Let’s Give This Bottle A Black Eye”, which could only ever be a country song in the Merle Haggard vein.

“If Wishes Were Horses” is a satisfying complete album, featuring a great bunch of songs, superb arrangements and a voice that works perfectly across a range from slow country ballads to greasy Southern Blues. Matt Patershuk deserves to be much more widely known.

The album is released in the UK on Friday November 29th on Black Hen Music (BHMCD0090). In the meantime have a quick look at these videos:

This is a perfect example of why we love this feature so much. Allan reviewed Matt’s excellent album “Same As I Ever Have Been” recently and when we gave the very prescriptive brief of ‘five of absolutely anything’, this is what he came up with. After almost two weeks (and six years), High Fives is still living up to its hard-earned reputation.

Matt Patershuk

Year End High Fives – Top 5 places to have a beer near my house

I live near the hamlet of LaGlace in the Peace County region, Alberta, Canada. For reference, I am about an hour’s drive east of the start of the Alaska Highway, and 5 hours northwest of Alberta’s capital city, Edmonton.

Fig 1 – The middle of nowhere.

I realize that these places are a little out of the way of most of you reading this fine publication. That being said, I hope this window on my corner of the world holds some interest for you; and, if you’re ever in the neighborhood, drop me a line and we’ll go for one together at one of these fine establishments.

Disclaimer: I am not a journalist, and there’s a good chance that there are some factual errors in some of the stories below. The GIST is 100% true.

1) Beaverlodge Hotel

Beaverlodge holds the record for the world’s largest beaver.

Fig 2 – “Don’t worry, she’s made out of fiberglass.”

I love this spot. Nary a sliver of daylight penetrates. The carpet is a mysterious red, black and beige pattern renowned for its stain camouflage capabilities. There’s a spiral staircase leading to the hotel rooms above, and the shingled roof above the bar is a thing of beauty. Not much has changed here since the 70’s. It’s quiet, unpretentious and they serve Lucky in a bottle.

Bonus points: Chinese Restaurant in the same building.

2) Rolla Pub

Patti’s family has owned the Rolla Pub for a long time. The building is the old hotel that was put there when the residents of the town thought the railroad was coming through at the turn of the last century.

Fig 3 – Patti behind the bar. (Photo credit rollapub.ca)

The barroom is the de facto town museum. Nearly every square inch is covered with photos and mysterious artifacts from the town’s past. Patti is happy to give you a personal tour and knows the story behind each item. You’ll be discovering new treasures all night.

Sometimes you’ll catch a band. Independent and local music on the jukebox.

3) Hart Hotel

This beauty is located near the start of the Alaska Highway in the town of Pouce Coupe (French for Cut Thumb but named after Chief of the Beaver Nation, “Pooscapee”). It’s perched atop a hill, there is a beautiful view of the Bissette Creek valley.  Built around the turn of the century by a rich older Irish Business owner, his young bride made her way across the ocean upon its completion only to find out he had died during the journey (I think? – I had had a couple of Luckys when I got the tour).

The bar is full of life size chainsaw carvings of some of the memorable patrons from over the years, including one who sadly hung himself.

Figure 4 – Yep. (Photo Credit runningdownourdream.blogspot.ca)

Quiet and cool, full of interesting local history and it’s got wood heat. High five.

4) Hythe Legion

I like all of these places because a corporate restaurant interior designer would faint if they ever walked into them. They are far from sterile, and you can feel the personality of the folks who’ve applied their hand to making them comfortable.

The Royal Canadian Legion is the veterans’ club of Canada. They are in nearly every town in the country and sport friendly pubs filled with military history and memorabilia. I always have a sense of reverence, respect and awe when I walk in to any of them. You could stop in any of them across our country and be very happy. I encourage you to do so and raise a glass to the fine men and women of Canada’s armed forces.

5) My Roof.

This technically breaks the rules of this exercise because it’s not near my house, but indeed right on top of it. I like to pour a pint of Old Speckled Hen or Newcastle Brown, walk across the top of the sturdy deck railing, and heave myself on to the roof above the kitchen. The view of Saskatoon Mountain and the changing fields of canola, wheat and hay gives a man a lot to look at while having a quiet think all by himself.

Great in the summer. Wouldn’t recommend it in the winter.

Hope you get to enjoy a cold one at one of these fine spots one day.

Happy New Year,

Matt