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New McLauchlan album a thoughtful look at a chaotic time

Beloved singer/songwriter says he's 'closer to the end than the beginning', but feels he has something to say--and sing--about the state of the world.
Songs on Murray McLauchlan's new album Hourglass started as poems addressing many of the pressing social issues of the day. Photo submitted.

Murray McLauchlan has always had a social conscience, so it's no wonder the Canadian singer/songwriter is out with a new album in these chaotic times--his 20th--though it's a project he had no intention of pursuing. But the findings of unmarked graves at residential schools, Black Lives Matter, anti-Asian racism, climate change, the era of Trump--these and other socially important issues practically compelled the Scottish-born McLauchlan to write and find his way into the studio yet again.

"It's not a pandemic album, though there is a song called Pandemic Blues, which says crap happens (like the Spanish Flu earlier this century) but we made it through that, and we'll make it through this too," said McLauchlan in a phone conversation about Hourglass, which debuted earlier this summer. "Everyone had stopped touring because of COVID, so I thought, there's time now; let's go into the studio and see what we have. It ended up being a project, and we had to pick the most important songs for this collection."

The timely album bears the trademarks of past McLauchlan offerings, including powerful folk and country-flavoured songs of a political and philosophical nature. Four songs were released early on YouTube to great response including A Thompson Day, which sees McLauchlan in his element in cottage country Ontario and an anthem addressing 'The One Percent'; the wealthiest among us in a world where so many have so little.

“I tried to make the compositions simple and accessible, like children’s songs for adults. These started as poems and then I found guitar licks and melodies to suit them,” said McLauchlan, best known for iconic favourites like The Farmer's Song and Whispering Rain. "I’m pushing 73 now and I still feel I’m getting better at what I do. But every album is a different journey. You go where the muse leads you."

With Hourglass, the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame inductee, Order of Canada recipient and 11-time JUNO Award-winning artist challenged himself to address the shocking events of the recent past but also the sweetness of life itself. Many songs reflect a view of the world and global events that have been evolving for some time, McLauchlan said. 

“I was hugely impacted by events unfolding on the news--a Syrian boy found washed up on a Turkish beach in 2015, George Floyd's killing in the U.S. in 2020. In the aftermath of his death, a massive wave of revulsion against systemic racism swept the world. It prompted many of us to look honestly into our hearts and not flinch from what we might find," he said.

"When writing The One Percent after the Occupy Wall Street movement, I thought ’this isn’t going away.’ As the accumulation of great wealth has increased for the very few, the vast majority of people have seen the opposite," he added. "I’m just a songwriter, but I guess I'm still an optimist too. That’s the only voice I have, other than my vote. But I know if we can’t find a way to make the world a more equitable place for everyone, our future is in question.”

The thoughtful musician said he often reminds himself that "the purpose of life is not to turn into someone at 85 you would've hated when you were 15."

While he ponders being "closer to the end than the beginning", McLaughlan continues fundraising efforts for Alzheimer's and dementia,(his sister lives in care with Alzheimer's), spends time with wife Denise and records and plays with a small group of friends and fellow performers under the 'Lunch at Allen's" banner. "It's so great to play with these friends and musicians," he added. "Friends are the family you choose".

Adding because he's not a big fan of virtual concerts, "There's no substitute for a live audience," McLaughlan assures followers he and his band will tour the Hourglass album across the country when things open up.