Helping at-risk youth one of Linda McRae’s passions


Now living in Nashville, Linda McRae has just released her latest album, Shadow Trails.

Now living in Nashville, Linda McRae has just released her latest album, Shadow Trails.

Photograph by: James Dean

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Linda McRae

Nov. 27, 8 p.m. at St. James Community Hall


Fans of Vancouver’s roots music scene will recall Linda McRae for her many appearances in the city over the years. The singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist has performed and recorded with her band Terminal City, as a member of Spirit of the West, and as a solo artist. Now living in Nashville, McRae has just released her latest album, Shadow Trails. We talked to the musician about the new record, her songwriting workshops for troubled youth, and her upcoming appearance (with vocalist/percussionist Shara Gustafson) at St. James Community Hall.

Q: Another former Vancouverite living in Nashville, Steve Dawson, produced the album. Did you record it in Nashville?

A: We made it in Toronto at The Woodshed, Blue Rodeo’s studio. Everything was done live off the floor. We ran through the songs three or four times and recorded them. It was a really fun, easy experience. We’d played in bands together over the years but I’d never worked with him as a producer, and he did a great job.

Q: You play some clawhammer banjo on this album. Did it help you write the songs for this new album?

A: It’s definitely changed my songwriting to a certain degree. It’s given it a lot more roots, old-time Appalachian sound. There’s one I wrote with an inmate at Folsom State Prison (in California). He wrote this beautiful poem called Flowers of Appalachia and I put it to music. The banjo brought something special out in the lyrics. It definitely did have an influence on a couple of the songs. There’s another one called Jesus or Jail, which was inspired by a film called Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus (2003). The banjo has been a wonderful influence on my writing and my music.

Q: How has performing and doing workshops in prisons affected you?

A: It started in 2011. I never would have thought of doing anything like this before. We met a fellow by the name of Buddy Tabor, an Alaskan songwriter, at a show in Nashville. He asked if I’d ever thought of working with inmates at maximum security prisons. I said, “Actually, no, I hadn’t thought about it.” We thought, let’s try it, see what happens. It took about a year.

Once we got there, I was just so surprised by the way we were treated, with the utmost respect and curiosity and attention. I did some songwriting workshops and some concerts the first time and I was blown away by the wonderful questions and comments that the inmates made about the songs. They were really listening and writing stuff down, asking “What did you mean by that line? Is that about addiction?” It was a great experience. We’ve been back about seven or eight times.

James (Whitmire, McRae’s husband) and I have also started an at-risk youth creative writing workshop. We work with kids in different lockdown facilities and alternative schools all over North America. We work at detox centres, women’s shelters — anywhere we feel people need a leg up, and might benefit by being able to put some their frustrations and thoughts down on paper. It’s a wonderful thing to see a 13-year-old kid’s face light up over something they’ve written. It’s been a tremendous experience. We’ve done about 100 workshops since 2012. It’s turned into an amazing thing. It’s worked its way into my songwriting for sure.

Q: The song Why Can’t Waylon was inspired by a question from a friend’s young son?

A: Friends of ours have house concerts in Texas. Their son, Moose, he’s in his twenties now, he came out with that: “If Jesus can come back, why can’t Waylon (Jennings)?” And I thought, I’ve gotta write that. The song Charlie Parr is about a Michigan artist that I saw play at a festival, the Porcupine Mountain Music Festival. After my set was done we went over to the other stage, and he was on stage playing. He kind of looks like this homeless guy. He’s really rooted in Piedmont blues acoustic guitar style, and I’ve been really curious about the really old acoustic blues stuff. I was so blown away by him and his whole persona that I needed up writing that song about him.

The album runs the gamut of human interest stories, some happy, some sad. Sidewalk Princess is dedicated to some Downtown Eastside Vancouver police folks, Al Arsenault and Odd Squad Productions Society. Their films can be hard to watch but are so important. Sidewalk Princess is someone in a really tough situation, whom we tried to put a positive spin on.

Q: What’s it like to come to back to Vancouver?

A: It’s really kind of hectic. My daughter lives in Maple Ridge with my two grandkids. We spend a lot of time trying to get out to see them. We try to see a bunch of our friends while we’re out there, see some of the old gang. I love coming back. It’s such a beautiful place.

Now living in Nashville, Linda McRae has just released her latest album, Shadow Trails.

Now living in Nashville, Linda McRae has just released her latest album, Shadow Trails.

Photograph by: James Dean

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