Joe Nolan, who has been heralded by outlets such as the Globe & Mail and No Depression as an Americana wunderkind, is a Canadian rising star to watch out for in 2021. Nolan has been a staple songwriter in the music industry for over a decade making his first two albums in Nashville with heavyweight producer Colin Linden. He’s also recorded an EP with Hawksley Workman and John Gullmarstam in Sweden. Now he continues to build upon the massive year that came in the wake of his 2018 independently released album Cry Baby and his 2020 release Drifters.
By March 2020, Joe Nolan was a serious musical contender. He’d just returned to his hometown of Edmonton, Canada, after playing a bout of shows in Europe, the culmination of over 170 live dates that previous year, in part thanks to signing on with agent Mongrel Music Agency (Chuck Prophet, Lake Street Dive). He’d signed record deals with Rootsy Records in Sweden (John Prine, Patti Griffin, Anderson East) and Fallen Tree Records in Canada. He’d won trophies, including the Cobalt award for his songwriting at The Maple Blues Awards 2018/2020, as well as a nomination at the Breakout West Awards 2020.
Now was his time.
Then came COVID-19.
It knocked him down.
But, he wasn’t knocked out.
Instead he experienced a rush of artistic energy. The singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist took the learnings from previous setbacks and channeled them into song, after song, after song.
Those songs coalesced to become his latest heavyweight album, Scrapper (provisionally scheduled for release on Oct 15, 2021).
“I wanted to make something a little bit more edgy this time,” says Joe Nolan. “Something with some meat on the bone, something a little more punchy and gritty but I also wanted to match that energy with softness and sensitivity.”
The result is eleven songs, some finished hours before the last minute recording session he was able to book at Scott Franchuk’s famed Riverdale Recorders studio in Edmonton, AB.
The honest, intimate, original music that Joe Nolan produces can be hard to define. It’s influenced by folk and blues, compared to Leif Vollebekk and Chuck Prophet, John Prine and Jeff Tweedy, Buddy Miller and Guy Clark. Yet with his tender approach and instrumentation, he prefers to just say its Roots music, “because that’s where everything I do stems from.”
The songs cover themes of loneliness on the road, the struggles of not having a rooted home and the misunderstandings that divide friends and lovers. It’s a look outside the ring of a touring musician, with a sadness hidden beneath the melodic beauty, revealing itself as the album unfolds. Perhaps it is the spirit that comes from survival, perseverance and fortified resolve to get out there again.
“It's almost like I don't have a choice,” accepts Nolan. “I don't think I will ever stop, or retire. This is my life, it's hard to explain, but it's something I just have to do.”
By getting back to his roots Nolan took a personal journey through his own family history. Stories from the past came out, accompanied by family photos, some of which have made it onto the album and single covers. They feature his grandfather, a resilient mentor, prominently. And so, Nolan realized the value in those physical connections with family. The links that form when performing on a stage. And he relished the joy of putting a record on the player and reading the liner notes and lyrics.
As for where Scrapper will take Nolan, he’s already booking regional outdoor shows as the restrictions lift, and is looking forward to getting back in the live ring, touring songs not just from Scrapper, but also his album Drifters, released in the early days of the 2020 lockdowns. It was nominated for a Canadian Folk Music Award 2021, and lauded by music magazine Exclaim! for “His blend of roots and folk [that] is refreshingly un-jaded and full-bodied” in their 9/10 review, and other publications including Folk Radio UK and Americana Highways.
Nolan contiunes to prove on this next offering that he truly is an undeniable artist, dynamic performer, and virtuosic talent that can not be ignored.
As the album Scrapper closes, the final song fades away, and you’ll hear the faint voice of a woman whispering, “I miss you, when are you coming home?”
For Joe Nolan, whose home is on a stage performing for you, the answer lies in the name of the song. It’s called “See You Soon.