Two Steel Strings
Recorded on a Canadian Pacific train travelling from Montreal to Vancouver, “Two Steel Strings” is the second solo-acoustic release from Shaun Verreault.
Verreault is best known as the virtuosic singer/guitarist/songwriter
for blues-rockers and Canadian live favourites Wide Mouth Mason (currently at work on their 7th album together while also enjoying a lack of musical
In 2006 and 2007, WMM performed on Canadian Pacific’s Holiday Train, an annual month-long food/funds/awareness drive benefiting local food banks in communities of all sizes. After riding the 2006 train across the country on what is no longer a passenger line and being invited to perform again in December 2007, Verreault recognized what a rare
musical opportunity it would be to record an album on the journey.
As a student of acoustic blues, folk and country music, Verreault was aware that the train’s clickety-clack rhythm had inspired much of the backbeat of 20th century music; its whistle had been emulated by harmonica, guitar and brass players, and singers, its cars had transported scores of recent immigrants and their instruments, stories and folk songs
to their new lives across North America, spawning new hybridized musical styles and culture. During the depression, the train also transported itinerant workers (usually illegally) and their guitars around the country where they became singer/songwriters, their protest songs and musical oral history shaping much of Canada’s early identity.
CPR’s enthusiastic support of the recording project gave Verreault unprecedented access to the train (the locomotive, the sleeper car (circa 1916), the dining car (1928) and the passenger car), where the bulk of the album was recorded. The train provided the rhythm and background creaks, squeals and whistles, serendipitously always in tune and in time
with the music being made by Verreault’s guitar and voice. In addition to the train, one song was recorded in the bathroom of a hotel once owned by CP, another in a small hundred-year-old church next to the tracks.
The songs themselves, while not all specifically about the train, were inspired by its rhythm and wanderlust. “Two Steel Strings” is a Leadbelly-esque shout about travel as risk and redemption, while “Long Distance Love” is about the challenge of staying close while physically far apart. “Outsourced” studies the effect on small towns when businesses move away. “The First Time” is about the addiction problems exacerbated by isolation. The Woody Guthrie-esque “Ballad Of Joe Verreault” stars Shaun’s grandfather, who operated a ferry near the town of Batoche, Saskatchewan (and married his Métis wife there). Batoche was the setting for the second Riel Rebellion, quashed in large part
by the hastily constructed railway in a bid by its builders for government funding, without which it would have folded unfinished. In the surreal “The Last Spike,” Verreault imagines riding through the whole history of the west in one night with Louis Riel, Crowfoot and a car-full of immigrants dancing and playing guitars and fiddles on the way to a climax at the end of the railroad.