Busker: Northern Fantasies
“Northern Fantasies” is a loose concept album, based on Busker’s travels through Canada while touring in the ’70s. It is not a story about Canada, as much as music inspired by impressions of the experiences. The variations are almost as vast as the country itself. That is really the charm of this album. Instead of a few epic pieces, it is a series of smaller vignettes. All of the songs represent a different aspect, yet as a whole, it is very much representative of the homeland.
Musically, the strongest comparison can be made to E.L.P. However, there is that unmistakable, but always intangible, North American quality. One of E.L.P.’s most impressive stats was that they achieved such a huge sound with only three musicians. Busker did it with only two, and more efficiently. These guys had the chops to play, and the vocals are very strong as well.
The album begins very E.L.P. inspired, but the third track brings the first real taste of the land. Well, actually, the sea would be more accurate. “Atlantic Fisherman’s Saga” is a lovely ballad, and truly captures the intended feeling (the use of a concertina helps a lot too). The theme continues in earnest on “Uncle Alexander Newfoundlander,” as it is an authentic sea shanty. “Inverness” is an Irish folk song, and hints at the diversity of Canadian culture (see, it’s not all just French and people that sound like they come from Michigan’s upper peninsula). “Winterlude” is a nice transition, and really does sound wintry. This bridges to the obligatory French section. “Chanson de la Rose” is another venture into the folk realm, but it is on “Coureurs de Bois” that things get really interesting. Steve and Randy are talented musicians, but they were also paying attention to what was going on in the rest of prog world. This is a great representation of the French theatrical style. On “Loony Bird,” they start to transition even further into avant territory. More twists and turns ensue, but I think I should have piqued interest enough by this point. There is still half the album to go. Suffice to say that the journey continues, and is neatly wrapped up by the “Finale.”
“Northern Fantasies” originated as a multimedia show, but never became a fully realized project while the band was in full swing. It’s a shame too, because it’s quite good, and perhaps could have given Busker the attention they needed. The project was resurrected, and more studio work was done, which is why it has a 2007 release date. It sounds very much of the ’70s, but not too dated for modern tastes.
It is finding gems like this that make all my work worthwhile. This is a lost treasure that deserves to be found. It may not be an absolute essential, but you will be glad to have it in your collection.
Steve McCann – keyboards, bass, guitars, vocals and percussion
Randy Dawdy – drums, congas, tympani, vocals and percussion