If we’re talking country, actual country – before the genre was inundated with high-gloss, made-for-radio, unnaturally produced singles – then Peter Willie Youngtree might be the best thing in local country since the disappearance of Joe Belly.
Like a true troubadour, Peter Willie gets around. He says a stint as a vagabond landed him in Nashville in 2009. “I took a few things away from my brief stay in Nashville. One was that songwriters are tradespeople. Carpenters build houses; songwriters write songs – each can be done in an artistic way or in a practical way, and both styles are quite okay. That freed up some of the internal pressure I’d often felt about writing songs – they don’t need to be works of art, I can just craft them and move on.”
The trip laid the seeds from which Youngtree sprung, so to speak. “There were people there from all over the world, trying to build careers as songwriters and performers – hearing and seeing them led me to believe I could do the same thing, with the right songs.”
Youngtree also spent time in June playing on a traveling train, as Via Rail’s Artist on Board. “The performer just sits or stands where he or she can find a place among the rest of the folks in the lounge car. People pop by for a while, or stay for the entire performance. It’s very folky, with natural storytelling moments and conversations.”
What makes the album shine is its originality: Youngtree is an authentic country musician, but he’s not just rehashing his genre, he’s reinventing it, to suit his songwriting style. This is one of the better, more interesting local albums of the year.
It’s also, at times, reminiscent of Steve Haley, one of the province’s best modern songwriters. The honky-tonkiest song, “Beauty, Just the Same,” is an album standout, if only for the clever turns of phrase that make it lodge in your head.
Lyrically, Youngtree is an old soul; the songs are about something, and they’re heartfelt. They cover the two grounds that make sense for the genre: the dark side of love and the pondering life’s meaning. The opening track covers both grounds, “And we all dream of success but no one dreams of the cost / Until you wind up holding your money like a lover, but all your love is lost.”
Standouts include “Shadows of Leaves Dancing on Your Skin,” “Spring Mountain,” a simple tale of two lovers taking in the stars, and how the simplest moments are the most potent ones, and the musically lush “Oh, My Companion,” which showcases some perfect violin and guitar work from Ilia Nicoll & Vic Lewis respectively (not to mention Mara Pellerin’s back-up vocals).
“Prayer for Our Enemies,” a six-minute vocally driven song about self-awareness is also a standout that’s gotten quite a response so far. “I got a message from [someone] who bought my CD, who told me that they had to pull over while driving and weep on the side of the road while listening to it. That’s what it’s all about for me. Music should have that power.”