Vancouver may be the most west of the Canadian West but find quality country music within the city limits may be harder than scoring front-row tickets to a Garth Brooks concert.
The genuine country bars nest in the sprawling suburbs, but few feature live music, favoring canned American country and western instead.
But that hasn’t stopped Vancouver-based Blue Shadows from carving out a country niche. Playing everywhere from fair stages in agriculture country to Vancouver’s hippest clubs, The Shadows (as they affectionately called by their ever-increasing throng of fans) have managed to pull off one of the biggest coups in country music: Crossover.
Led by former Cowsills vocalist Billy Cowsill and co-writer Jeff Hatcher, the band mixes Hank Williams’ bare country soul with a fab-four back beat.
They’ve managed to steer clear of gut-bucket twang and still remain faithful to the element of country: clean acoustic guitar, an even beat and just enough heartbreak to let you shed a tear in the privacy of your pickup.
Formed in 1992 when Cowsill and Hatcher were introduced by k.d.lang manager and now Mute Records (U.S.) president Larry Wanagas, the two men realized they were the perfect team. Not only are they both born songwriters, but their voices dovetail with Everly Brothers’ ease. Together with bass player Barry Muir and drummer J.B. Johnson, the band brings back memories of cherry-red Mustangs and the first taste of Burroughs.
The band is signed to Wanagas’s Bumstead label (and distributed by Sony Music Canada). Their debut album, On the Floor of Heaven, was released in January and, so far, they’ve sold more than 15,000 units. They’ve opened for The Rankins, who beat them out of a Canadian Country Music Award, and their video for Deliver Me is played regularly on MuchMusic.
But national profile has proven elusive. No doubt it’s just another album away.