It seems fitting that Al Tuck, whose songs are often described as having a timeless quality, has an attachment to what endures, whether in the form of music, technology or items of clothing. After a brief reminiscence over the days of rabbit ears ("No need to adjust your set, there's nothing you can do," he sings on "Hello, Prince Edward Island") Tuck points to his foot. "The cobbler won't repair my boots. I tried to get them fixed up before my tour, but he declined to do it, declared them history. They aren't history, though---I gotta wear them!"
Tuck is self-deprecating, providing disclaimers for---and expressing dissatisfactions about---his own work. He's not his own best spokesperson, so you might want to listen to his fans if you want an idea of what makes his songs special. He's one of those musicians beloved by other musicians, whose almost 20-year recording and live career has earned him respect and admiration among his peers. (Feist, Sloan and Jason Collett are just a few of his cheerleaders.) A longtime Haligonian who currently lives in Hunter River, PEI, Tuck will be launching his new album, Under Your Shadow, at The Carleton on November 10.
Releasing the album on Joel Plaskett's New Scotland Records was a natural choice, so natural that "I don't even remember us really discussing it," Tuck says. Plaskett also recorded and produced the opening track, "Slapping the Make on You." "He lined up the instrumentation I wanted for that track, Irish pipes and a bodhran drum, which helped me out in a big way," Tuck says. The new recordings showcase Tuck's storytelling talents, while pulling elements from country, blues, folk and pop traditions. On the title track, a pretty melody carries more sombre reflections: "It sums up the theme of the world, as much as the album," Tuck says. "We're under some kind of dark shadow."
Humour has always played a big part in Tuck's songwriting, and this is especially evident in "Hello, Prince Edward Island", a lo-fi, live recording from Tuck's first, recent performance in his hometown of Summerside. Originally written for an appearance on the local CBC newscast Compass, the track is filled with appreciative laughter from the audience. "They got one joke, and then it just snowballed and they seemed to find everything funny," Tuck says.
Being a father is a big part of Tuck's life these days. Six-year-old Isabel appears on the album cover, perched on Tuck's shoulders. "That's the only shot where she wasn't sticking out her tongue," he says. Isabel influences some of Tuck's listening habits at home, too---these days, both are into Stompin' Tom Connors. Tsegue Maryam Guebrou, an Ethiopian nun who plays haunting solo piano, has also been on repeat. "For the longest time, I didn't listen to anything else. It just made things more cinematic," Tuck says. "Just sounds like good music for the end of the world, the end of time."
Tuck's release show will follow a tour through Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick accompanied by Sudbury's OX. He still enjoys touring, but prefers not to overplan, or carry a cellphone.
"I find I always arrive at the right time, so there's no need to go back and forth and discuss things. If you just go by some sort of invisible tempo, it all seems to fall into place," Tuck says. "I like the roll of the dice, seeing whether I'm lucky or not at different junctures."
Al Tuck w/OX, Thursday, November 10, 9pm, The Carleton, 1685 Argyle Street, $15