North Wind is Canadian singer songwriter Aengus Finnan’s second album, after Fool’s Gold (1999). It is an album that you play through just once and say, “Wow!”
North Wind is themed along life in the North, in somewhat the same way as Bill Morrissey’s North. Finnan wrote most of the songs himself, but has also interjected material by Slaid Cleaves, Maria Dunn, and Bill Caddick. Winner of the 2002 Kerrville New Folk Songwriting Award, Finnan’s song writing is excellent, not so much because of the words he uses, but because of the way they interact with the melody, the acoustic arrangements, and his own smooth voice. More interesting, though, is the sequencing of tracks; it is rare to hear an album like this where with each track you ask “What’s next?”
North Wind boasts several outstanding compositions. “Swing Boys Swing” is a straighforward railroad song, composed in historical style. “Ruins” is the familiar story of farm bankruptcy, and ears perk for the next verse as an elderly farmer begins to trash his property. “Last Dance” is written on the equally familiar theme of a ballet dancer who has left the farm, only to end up dancing in a strip cafe to earn the bus fare home. “Peeling paint, dripping tap, a filthy windowpane. One more night will pay the price for a ticket home again.” Finnan also sings about truckers and miners and travelers along life’s road. Splitting the album in half is a brilliant but tragic interlude consisting of a recited adaptation of Slaid Cleaves’ “Sandy Grey,” the story of a northwoods log jam hero, and Maria Dunn’s description of a badly neglected “Home Boy” brought to Canada as an orphan. Maybe the characters are one and the same. The third piece, Bill Caddick’s contemporary “One Hand On the Radio,” tells the thoughts of a trucker glued mile after mile to the radio. Rounding out the mix are some experiments with mixing jazz and “traditional” music; the one that works best is “Lost Jimmy Whelan.”
With solitary graves and old wooden buildings, the graphics on the notes and cover rival those on some of my upscale doom metal albums. Some might be reminded of the book Wisconsin Death Trip! North Wind carries hard times, sorrow and others’ broken dreams objectively, as aesthetic building blocks.