The Lucky Ones return with new album and single ‘A Fifth Of You’
Since releasing their self-titled debut album in 2020, The Lucky Ones have quickly come to be regarded as one of Canada’s finest roots music ensembles. Hailing from the Yukon, the group’s sound is built on a foundation of traditional bluegrass and honky tonk, but expressed through the distinctive songwriting of its core members, singer/guitarist Ian Smith, singer/guitarist JD McCallen, singer/mandolinist Ryan James West, singer/fiddler Kieran Poile, upright bassist Jeff Dinely and banjo/pedal steel player Ryan McNally.
The Lucky Ones’ sophomore album, Slow Dance, Square Dance, Barn Dance, continues to see that sound evolve on nine new original tunes that showcase the band’s wide-ranging musical chops and unique personalities, augmented by guests musicians Aaron P. Burnie on banjo, Hayley Warden on upright bass, Akilena Jóhansson on accordion and backing vocalist Jo Lane Dillman. Recorded over a four-day span at the Anglican Cathedral of the Diocese of Yukon, on the traditional territory of the Ta’an Kwach’an Council and Kwanlin Dün First Nations, Slow Dance, Square Dance, Barn Dance alternately conveys all the atmosphere of an intimate live performance or a raucous night out on the tiles.
In a group statement, they explain, “The songwriting on this album reflects more of the sound we’ve been leaning towards since making the first one. It’s more grounded and honest. We think that is a draw of this music; no frills, only honest old-time hillbilly music with a Yukon twist.”
As on the Lucky Ones’ debut, nearly all of the songs on Slow Dance, Square Dance, Barn Dance are drawn from real life in the far north, with a loose storyline connecting them, starting with “Kate And Dan.” In fact, it took JD nearly a decade to feel he was properly telling the story of two notorious criminals who met their fate at the end of a rope.
“I had the initial inkling for this song when I read about some human remains being found near Minto Park in Dawson City,” he said. “It took about eight years, a handful of revisions and some creative truth telling to get it right.”
From there, “Broken Bow Stomp” imagines the party that would have taken place after the hanging, although the song actually came about after a St. Jean Baptiste Day show in a small Quebec town when Kieren leaned into his fiddle enough to actually break his bow. Luckily, he had a spare, but such a rare occurrence prompted him to write the song during the van ride the next day. A central character soon emerges whose exploits provide the context for “Goodbye Train,” “A Fifth Of You,” and “Keno City Love Song,” the last a poignant, Kristofferson-esque ballad about how a visit to a place can sometimes lead a person to fall in love with it and stay there for the rest of their life.
Although the group doesn’t go as far as describing Slow Dance, Square Dance, Barn Dance as a concept album on par with Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger, they say their collective creative mind set has become much more focused.
“We were a relatively new band when we were recording our first album. Some of the members had never even heard the songs before the session. Since that time, we’ve grown as a group—both in numbers and in musicianship—through touring together, playing shows in the Yukon, and woodshedding new songs as a band. The result is a more refined, cohesive album that really captures our sound.”
At the same time, the Lucky Ones have dedicated Slow Dance, Square Dance, Barn Dance to their friend and mentor Joe Loutchan, a.k.a. The Fiddler on the Loose, who passed away in 2021. It was a big blow to the band personally, as Joe held court at the famous 98 Hotel in Whitehorse, hosting “Fiddle Night” every Thursday since 1982. In recent years, the Lucky Ones covered for Joe, allowing he and his wife some summer vacation time. Since his passing, the band has fully assumed Joe’s residency, and the members have done their best to honour his memory by adding more traditional fiddle tunes to their repertoire.
It’s another shining example of how the tight-knit Yukon music community spans generations, with the Lucky Ones, in many ways, being at the centre of it. The band is fully preparing to return to the road as soon as it’s safe to do so, but until then they’re grateful to be able to play at home and keep nurturing their music through their immediate surroundings.
As JD said, “The isolation is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, I don’t feel like there’s any pressure to compete, but on the other there’s not a lot to compete for. In the north, it’s not out of the question to travel six hours for a gig. But it’s such a beautiful place to live and make music; everywhere you look is a goddamn postcard. And stories, there’s certainly no shortage of stories.”
The Lucky Ones’ Slow Dance, Square Dance, Barn Dance is available now on all digital platforms, and from theluckyonesmusic.com.