Various Artists “Sonny Don’t Go Away: A Tribute To Ron Hynes”

Sonic Records, 2023

Wonderful tribute to underrated Canadian singer-songwriter.

Ron Hynes was a legend in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada; seen by many as its unofficial poet laureate. In November 2015, he passed away aged 64 as a result of throat cancer. On the day he died, Newfoundland and Labrador was in the middle of a contentious provincial election; however, rather than broadcasting the electioneering, that night’s CBC news was devoted to the passing of Ron Hynes. Thousands crammed into the pews of the Basilica of St. John The Baptist church to say farewell to “the man of a thousand songs”, it was a de facto state funeral. Outside of Newfoundland and Labrador there’s a relatively limited number of people who are aware of his work; however, those who are, put him in the company of other Canadian greats such as Gordon Lightfoot and Neil Young. Hynes was a prolific writer and his songs have been covered by everyone from Emmylou Harris to Christy Moore.

This tribute album brings together 20 of Hynes’ songs covered by a collection of Newfoundland and Labrador-based artists. The project was put together by Alan Doyle who asked Newfoundland singers and musicians if they would like to appear on the album. He says the idea from the start was to involve a large group of artists to ensure the tribute was a collective and communal effort. Doyle also collaborated with The Dardanelles on a cover of ‘St. John’s Waltz’ which appears on the record and co-produced it with Cory Tetford.

This really is a beautifully curated album, there’s not a below-par track on it. The album commences with an evocative piano and Tim Baker performing ‘Leaving On The Evening Tide’ a song of farewell. It’s followed by Amelia Curran performing ‘Dark River’ with Duane Andrews; her vocals are flawless and perfectly coupled with her guitar picking. Quote The Raven, who comprise Jordan Coaker and Kirsten Rodden-Clarke, provide a harmonious version of ‘Godspeed (Requiem For Gene MacLellan)’, Hynes’ touching homage to his deceased friend. The Once deliver a stunning and poignant ‘Atlantic Blue’. Jodee Richardson’s interpretation of ‘Cryer’s Paradise’ is suitably upbeat with an electric guitar solo, which acts as a good counterpoint to the more folky songs which precede it.

Joel Thomas Hynes, provides a family connection, and delivers a great country reading of ‘Last Chance Avenue’, a tale of a man on the run holed up in a motel ‘watching the Godfather on TV’. Mathew Byrne takes on ‘1962’. Byrne performs a crystal clear rendition of this nostalgic song, which reflects on the years gone by and namechecks Del Shannon. A rocky ‘Picture Of Dorian Grey’ by Glenn Simmons is followed by the acoustic ‘Where Does Love Go Wrong’ sung by Yvette Lorraine. Shanneyganock play a Celtic and squeeze box infused ‘If I Left You Alone With My Heart’. Indie-folk duo, The Fortunate Ones, who hail from St John’s appropriately sing ‘No Change In Me’, which references the province’s capital city. The album is brought to a close with Kellie Loder performing ‘Sonny’s Dream’. It’s a moving version of Hynes’ best-known song, which is about a man trapped in rural Canada constrained by the need to look after his lonely mother.

Hynes lived a complicated life and as a result of that, bad luck and some poor career choices his songs never became as well known outside his native province as they deserved. This record will hopefully go some way to spreading Hynes’ songs outside the borders of Newfoundland and Labrador.


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