It took a long time — and fate intervened a couple of times — but the long-awaited album from Doug Cox and Linda McRae is out at last.
For lovers of folk-roots-Americana music, “Beyond The Great Pause” is worth the wait — a recorded-live offering from a top Canadian duo, each of them multi-instrumentalists and songwriters with impressive discographies.
Cox and McRae are performing in Cranbrook, April 16, at the Key City Theatre.
Their new album was recorded live, over a series of concerts in B.C. in 2022, once the pandemic subsided enough to let them to hit the road.
Linda McRae, originally from Vancouver, and formerly of Canadian Folk Rock band Spirit of the West, currently resides in Nashville, working as a songwriter. Doug Cox, a multi-instrumentalist and composer rooted in the Blues, lives on Vancouver Island. Over the past several years, they have tried to get together to record, but circumstances kept getting in the way.
“When we first decided to do this record this way [live in 2022], I felt we had to do something, because we had tried it twice,” Cox said. “Linda came all the way to Vancouver Island two times, and had to turn around and go back twice. I thought we had to do it, just to do something — it was almost like an exorcism.”
The pair, who first met 26 years ago at the Stan Rogers Folk Festival, have performed together over the years. But their launch as a duo in February, 2022, and subsequent shows, are what’s captured on the new album.
“We didn’t really know we were recording a live album,” Cox said. “Three of those shows just happened to get recorded. We had done two attempts at making a record.”
The first attempt was curtailed by the sudden death of Cox’s mother. The second time was brought on by the pandemic — “the whole world shutting down,” McRae said.
“We thought [the pandemic] would be over in six months. We had an 18-show tour booked, right in March, when we were going to record the record.”
But, third time’s a charm, as they say.
“I feel so fortunate, that it worked out that way,” McRae said of the process of capturing their shows live. “After two valiant efforts. Then just having this land in our lap. In Penticton, the sound person who was there was the sound person when I was in Spirit of the West, and I didn’t recognize him until he took his mask off.
“And when we played at Doug’s venue in Courtenay, they recorded that night as well, and then the Cold Snap Music Festival in Prince George.
“Doug sifted through all the material and tried to find the best version of everything. Three different shows. That’s a lot of music. We did two sets at most of them. Going through and picking out which performances are the best, then doing all the mixing and mastering. I feel very fortunate and grateful that we had the opportunity to do that. And it’s all live.”
It’s hard to capture the energy of a live performance on record. But “Beyond the Great Pause” does indeed capture that energy — a mix of original songs and interpretations, songs of personal observation and redemption that have a universal access for the listener, as well melodies haunting and lilting, and powerful vocal harmonies.
The title track — “Beyond The Great Pause” — sets the tone, the theme that runs through the record.
“Right after the pandemic started, I tried to figure out what it meant to us,” McCrae said, of how that song was written. “It divided everybody so much, and we were trying to figure out how is it going to end, and what are the ramifications. Are we going get through it with flying colours? Is it going to change the way we think about things?
“And John Prine passed away right at the beginning of the pandemic. It had a huge effect on all us, It had a huge impact in Nashville, because he was so entrenched in the national music scene. We just wanted to write something about it, and be hopeful that we’re going to get out the other side of it.”
Songs like “Ready For The Times to Get Better,” a great Crystal Gayle song, echo these sentiments.
“Crow on the Cradle” and “Listen to the Water,” are songs that look at the world around us and the choices we make. Rock and roll makes an appearance in “Heroes” by David Bowie (a familiar musical touchstone for both Cox and McCrae) and the Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset.” And Cox dusts off an old Jazz standard, “Paper Moon,” with an original take on it and unique chord voicing.
“New Tim Hortons” — by both McRae and Cox, with guest vocalist Kim Richey (and recorded in Banff) — is (arguably, perhaps) the greatest song ever written about that Canadian Institution.
At the time of this writing, “Beyond the Great Pause” is number eight on the international folk charts, and rising.
They both feel like the album is the beginning of a new chapter.
“I can’t wait to do the next [album],” McRae said. “We’ve written a bunch of songs together that didn’t make it on to this one, simply because the live recordings weren’t as good as we wanted them to be, for a whole bunch of reasons.”
“For me, I’m proud of the record,” Cox said. “I’m nervous about putting out a live record these days without having any control over the quality of the sound beyond what we had. It’s a new chapter, because the next thing we do together is going to be really great.”
Linda McRae and Doug Cox play the Key City Theatre in Cranbrook, Sunday, April 16 (in the lobby venue). Keith Larsen and Ethan Askey are opening. Showtime 7 pm.