Featuring all things stringed and acoustic with great vocals. J.P. Cormier, Moonfruits plus James Hill and Anne Janelle plus more

Part Nine

2-Song Playlist (by contributor Diane Beckett)
10-Song Playlist (by contributor John MacLean)

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Contributor John MacLean presents several historic and contemporary guitar players ranging from the iconic Flatt and Scruggs to Canada’s J.P. Cormier (above).


The contributors in Part Nine, the final instalment of the Sixth Annual Edition of Reader’s Choice, are Winnipeg’s Diane Beckett – a veteran environmental advocate now working in the new Manitoba government – and Vancouver’s John MacLean – a long time neighbour and retired engineer. Both are avid fans of all things acoustic and stringed with gorgeous vocals on top.

BECKETT PRESENTS two flying-under-the-radar Canadian performers – Ottawa art-folk band Moonfruits as well as the harmonious ukelele/cello duo of Nova Scotia-based James Hill and Anne Janelle.

MACLEAN TAKES A BRIEF WALK through music history sharing a song called Jimmy Brown the Newsboy in four iterations starting with the 1929 Carter Family version up to a current day cover by Canada’s J.P. Cormier. He touches down on two variations of a classic tune by the late John Martyn and also presents a couple of takes on I Think I’ll Just Go Away as well as a single by Townes Van Zandt.

The 6th Annual Readers’ Choice

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Kris Sig Plastic V3
28 January 2024

Diane Beckett
Winnipeg, MB

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James Hill and Anne Janelle

2-Song Playlist

I love singer-songwriter couples who make sweet harmonies together. Two of my favourites are Moonfruits as well as James Hill and Anne Janelle. Peruse their websites: Moonfruits and James Hill & Anne Janelle. And listen to these two songs:

7 Billion a hopeful, upbeat song with some deeper, darker undercurrents about all 7 billion of us on Planet Earth.

If Wishes Were Horses – a soulful song that evolves into a powerful combination of ukele, cello, and words that create unusual images.

About Diane: This fall, at age 70, Diane Beckett moved to a new city and started a new job as a policy advisor with Premier Wab Kinew’s Department of Environment and Climate Change. She loves her life journey.

John MacLean
Vancouver, BC

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Scottish singer-songwriter John Martyn in 1971

10-Song Playlist

  • May You Never / John Martyn
  • May You Never / John Martyn and Kathy Mattea
  • Snowing on Raton / Townes Van Zandt with Robert Earl Keen and John Fullbright
  • I Think I’ll Just Go Away / The Stanley Brothers
  • I Think I’ll Just Go Away / Lil Smokies & Sierra Ferrell
  • Jimmy Brown the Newsboy / The Carter Family
  • Jimmy Brown the Newsboy / Flatt and Scruggs
  • Jimmy Brown the Newsboy / Norman Blake
  • Jimmy Brown the Newsboy / J.P. Cormier

Despite a year’s absence from making a Reader’s Choice submission, I have had some sort of epiphany recalling some of the music that emerged from my marathon and constant YouTube listening sessions throughout the year.

I am a retired engineer with aspirations to play some of my guitars and fiddles a little more this coming year. I enjoy a wide range of music but of late more country music is showing up on the YouTube channel. It seems to have a fairly rigorous bias that appears to be less adventurous than a few years ago. However, out of this rigour a few gems have emerged.

John Martyn

First musician up is John Martyn born in 1948 (as David Michael McGeachy) and died in 2009 just two weeks after receiving an OBE but not before producing 23 albums during his career. He struggled with substance use throughout his life. The Times called him “an electrifying guitarist whose music blurred the boundary between folk, jazz, rock and blues”.

I’m featuring two versions of the song May You Never, a poignant tune of affectionate desperation.
I came across it first on the ‘Transatlantic Sessions’ a UK/Nashville collaboration, recorded by the BBC in Scotland in the 1990’s. In that version he collaborates with the American country singer Kathy Mattea. The other is an earlier version of a younger Martyn singing in concert. Both are emotionally compelling.

Townes Van Zandt

Townes Van Zandt was a singer and songwriter who had a difficult and eccentric life. He was bipolar, had drug and alcohol issues and lived – earlier in his career in the ’70’s – in a simple backwoods shack with no electricity or telephone. He tended to play in dive bars, living in cheap hotels while on the road. His melancholic and richly poetic music and lyrics were recorded by countless musicians. They included If I Needed You and the timeless Pancho & Lefty which has been referred to as the best country song of all time.

He died on Christmas day 1997 of complications from a lifetime of drug and alcohol abuse. The song I’ve chosen to feature is Snowing on Raton. Raton, New Mexico is 6.5 miles south of the NM/Arizona border just south of the Raton Pass on I-25. This version is sung and recorded in 2001 by Robert Earl Keen with others, and comes with a bit of preliminary commentary. A compellingly romantic tune. Recorded also by Rosalie Sorrels and Emmylou Harris.

Sierra Ferrell

The third song I’ve come across recently is I Think I’ll Just Go Away sung by Sierra Ferrell. It’s an old Stanley Brothers tune written by Carter Stanley in 1961 but unreleased until 1968 or 1969.

Ferrell is a West Virginian comfortable with a range of bluegrass, old time and country music. She’s a compelling artist whose YouTube videos show eccentric costuming and a versatile musical style. Two early rhythmic treatments of the Stanley Brothers song can be noted in the examples included. I Think I’ll Just Go Away is beautifully restructured, updated and energized by Sierra in this electric club environment with a large and enthusiastic crowd. Each verse is nuanced differentially as she gradually edges the song towards the ending with a roof-lifting and exuberant finale. Breathtaking! 

Song: Jimmie Brown the Newsboy

I came across the song Jimmie Brown the Newsboy at a J.P. Cormier concert a couple of years ago in Prince Edward Island. It is an old tune first sung by the Carter Family, captured here in a 1929 recording. The arrangement reflects the staid, conservative arrangements of the day. But it reveals a compelling narrative in the lovely melody and lyrics that give insight into daily life a century ago.

Flatt and Scruggs did a version likely in the late ’50’s and – interestingly – features two guitars rather than Earl Scruggs playing banjo. The arrangement is a bit more fluid but still regimented and rejects the state of ’50’s country music.

Norman Blake, an American icon in old time and bluegrass guitar, recorded a version – likely in the ’70’s – with exquisite guitar arrangements that give the song solid rhythm and definition. He decorates the melody with his fills but doesn’t overwhelm the lovely melody.

CORMIER is a Canadian and Maritime-based guitarist extraordinaire who got his real ‘break’ in music at 19 playing fiddle for 10 years with Stompin’ Tom Connors. He has a reverent and moving series on YouTube where he talks about Stompin’ Tom and his time with him. He is wildly talented and a regular artist in the Cape Breton tribute to East Coast music Celtic Colours which takes place each fall.

J.P.’s arrangement of Jimmie Brown the Newsboy is the next evolutionary step in the song’s musical development. His arrangement is sublimely fluid and focused. He adds a humorous touch commenting on his mother’s playing and her opinion of his accomplished ornamentation while doing the song.

I first heard this song when Cormier performed it at a concert I went to in 2022 in PEI just a month or so before Hurricane Fiona. The storm devastated the north shore of PEI where the Shaw’s Hotel is located and where this lovely concert took place.

I hope you enjoy this but now,…. I think I shall just go away and play some guitar!
Happy New Year…

About John: John MacLean is a retired mechanical engineer who spent a career making buildings more energy efficient. He plays a bit of guitar and violin and has always stayed close to the music.