Writer, composer and musician Tomson Highway was born in a snowbank on the Manitoba/Nunavut border to a family of nomadic caribou hunters. He had the great privilege of growing up in two languages: Cree, his mother tongue, and Dene, the language of the neighboring nation, a people with whom his family travelled and hunted. He is the proud son of legendary caribou hunter and world championship dogsled racer, Joe Highway, and artist-in-her-own-right (as bead-worker and quilt-maker extraordinaire), Pelagie Highway. That’s them on the cover of the brand new record, ‘Cree Country’. Sung by the incomparable Patricia Cano, ‘Cree Country’ is a stylish collection of twelve new country songs from one of Canada’s most prolific artistic innovators. With a spectacular band including the very best of Canadian country players, the album’s compelling tunes speak of real life, love, longing, devotion, our connection with nature, and the courage it takes to strive for your goals. Produced by the award-winning John Alcorn, the virtuosity of each musician is given great room to shine, with backup vocals that recall The Jordanaires, the gospel quartet loved by Elvis. Cree is an Indigenous language spoken by 100,000 North Americans. Many of Canada’s most well-known place names are of Cree origin, including Winnipeg, Manitoba, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Chicoutimi, Québec, and Ottawa. It’s a very rhythmic language that lends itself naturally to music-making – and particularly country! Tomson recalls living in the Manitoba bush in the 1950’s and hanging a transistor radio high in the trees at night to hear country music waft north all the way from Nashville, Tennessee. The joy of hearing that music is the inspiration behind these tunes.
I am proud to say that I had the chance to catch up with Tomson Highway to discuss the seed to flower creation of this fantastic new release. It was incredible to hear how long this music, this show, has been a work in progress. The happiness and joy that this sound spreads is really incomparable to that which oozes out of Tomson…I am still noticing my smile is a little bit wider these days. Within these words, there are paths to inner healing and hints on ways to find that happiness that is clearly still all around – I think I will just climb the ladder a little higher and adjust my transistor radio…recalibrate and check out Tomson and Cree Country.