I arrived home from a week of Christmas and New Year holidays in Alberta and was pleased to find a package with two CDs in my mail box. The albums are Flying and The Hometown Band by “The Hometown Band.” They have recently been digitized from the original masters kept in the vaults of Universal Music. I first owned these recordings on 8-track tape in the late 70s and enjoyed them for hours in my 1970 Ford Gran Torino.
I pulled them out and gave them each a good listen. If, like me, you are a fan of Canadian music from the 70s you would readily remember their signature song, “Flying.” But, like me, you may have forgotten some of the other great songs on these two albums. I found myself singing along with “I’m Ready” and reminiscing about how much I enjoyed this song. Shari Ulrich’s vocals are incredibly strong and I remembered how much I enjoyed seeing her and the whole band perform in 1977 as they toured with the legendary folk icon, Valdy. Both “Flying” and “I’m Ready” were written by J. Mock. [I do not know this name but I must do some research to learn who this phenomenal writer is. Perhaps in a future blog I can give you the results of my investigations.]
Many of the songs on both albums show off the instrumental abilities of the band members. Producer Claire Lawrence’s saxophones soar and tug at the heart, Ulrich’s violin parts are mesmerizing. The concert I saw in 1977 at the Memorial Centre in Red Deer, Alberta started with a five to seven minute fiddle solo by Ulrich before the curtains pulled back revealing the rest of the band on the stage behind her; they then joined in. I remember thinking how amazing it was to see one person with a fiddle hold an entire audience spellbound for this long. The song, “Spread’m All Around,” on Flying really shows the prowess of all of the band members. A strong bass line undergirds this twelve minute masterpiece while violin and saxophone duel and swoop. The song also features some great organ solos by Robbie King (I am thinking it is a Hammond B-3). The organ sound is solid without becoming overpowering like much of the music in this period known for over reliance on the organ and synthesizer as filler. Great guitars by Doug Edwards fills out the sound.
Of the two CDs, Flying is the stronger album yet the self-titled album has a few pleasant surprises. “What Would I Do” has that sound that made it a hit on AM radio in the 70s and still gets me singing along. The short but sweet “Feel Good” written by Ulrich is a great example of her ability as a writer and is just plain fun. “Sweet Emma” written by Ulrich and Lawrence has a fantastic rhythm and a New Orleans sound (is that a straight tenor sax I hear?).
The Hometown Band started in 1975 as a group of session musicians who supported Valdy but they developed their own identity on the strength of these phenomenal musicians. The music still sounds very good today. I am glad Shari put in the effort to convince Universal that it was time to digitize this important art from the Canadian music scene. I long ago lost the ability to play this music on my 8-track player. I encourage you to go to Shari Ulrich’s web site (www.shariulrich.com) and order the two CDs while you still can.