Bend Surgery Center presents
2017-2018 Live At The Tower Season
Tickets: Reserved Seating $17, $27, $35
Join Les Stroud for exclusive Wanderlust Tours to Paulina Lake and a Central Oregon cave! Package includes transportation, guides, gear, private audience with Les, and tickets to his Tower concert. Details at www.wanderlusttours.com/specialevents. Sold Out.
For many years, environmentalist, musician and filmmaker Les Stroud has used his groundbreaking TV show Survivorman as the principle vehicle for conveying his mission to celebrate and protect nature.
Now, he’s combining his love for the environment with his other passion: music. On his fifth full-length album Bittern Lake (June 1),the Canadian singer-songwriter issues an urgent call for environmental preservation with a collection of songs produced by Mike Clink (Guns ’N Roses Appetite for Destruction, Metallica).
Bittern Lake announces its subject matter with a pair of gritty covers. “Death in the Wilderness,” a little-known track by renowned guitarist and songwriter J.J. Cale (author of Eric Clapton’s classics “Cocaine” and “After Midnight”), mourns the loss of the Earth’s last wild spaces over a smoldering blues-rock groove with hard-hitting lyrics: “God save this planet now/We’ve got to help somehow/We’ve let it happen way too long.”
Following that comes one of the album’s biggest surprises: a version of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” that strips away the original’s catchy chorus and sunny acoustic guitars in favor of a sparse, bluesy arrangement featuring little more than a dusty slide guitar and Stroud’s own scorching harmonica licks. “I even changed the lyrics of the last verse — sacrilège!” Stroud notes. But to his delight (and relief), when he sent Mitchell his version, “She loved it.”
Recorded at his home in Huntsville, Ontario, on the shore of its namesake lake, Bittern Lake represents Stroud’s favorite way of making music: “live off the floor, no overdubs, everybody in one room, all at one time.” Those musicians on Bittern Lake include members of Stroud’s longtime backing band, the Campfire Kings, as well as singer-songwriters Oh Susanna and Justin Rutledge, ace session drummer Tony Braunagel (Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal) and Cuban-Canadian guitar wizard Elmer Ferrer.
Elsewhere on Bittern Lake, Stroud displays considerable songwriting chops of his own. “Snowshoes and Solitude” could be described as Northern blues, as Stroud meditates on escaping to “a world of wind and water” above the Arctic Circle, where he’s alone with the caribou and the aurora borealis. “How Long” is a wakeup call disguised as a plaintive folk ballad, wondering if it’s too late for humanity to realize “time’s no longer on our side.”
Stroud has logged his 10,000 hours in music. He began playing guitar and writing songs at 14, and by his early twenties was a published songwriter with RCA/BMG Music. He later put music aside to focus on his burgeoning career as a filmmaker and outdoor adventurer — but a chance gig on one of his many wilderness trips rekindled his passion for music. “The second I stood up on a stage in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories at the northernmost blues club and blew harp to ‘Mustang Sally,’” he recalls, “I was like, ‘Holy shit, I’ve really missed this.’”
Since then, he’s continued balancing both careers. “All the time I was Survivorman, I was recording albums,” Stroud notes. He has written or co-written music for all his film projects, including Survivorman, and released four full-length albums of original material, as well as shared stages with the likes of Alice Cooper, Slash, Jonny Lang and Journey.
“In order for me to get involved with an artist, I have to love the music,” says Clink. “I’m really happy with how the record turned out. It’s a great introduction to what Les is all about.”
Bittern Lake also features covers of fellow Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn’s cautionary tale “If a Tree Falls” and a blistering version of Ben Harper’s “Excuse Me Mister,” as well as an intimate, gather-round-the-campfire version of the theme song from Stroud’s all-time favorite film, Jeremiah Johnson. (“I’ll still watch that once or twice a winter,” he says.) And because Stroud loves to collaborate, he passes the mic twice — once to Suzanne Ungerleider, who records under the name Oh Susanna, with whom he duets on the heartbreaking “Poison,” and once to Toronto singer-songwriter Justin Rutledge, who ends the album on a graceful note with the country-tinged “Goodbye July.”
“I come by what I’m saying honestly, because I’ve been saying it for a long time,” Stroud affirms. “Sometimes the stars align, and as far as putting out this music now and having all these people behind it, it’s very much the right place and the right time.”