Canada, and its music, have each gone through sweeping changes over the past three decades, and Dave Bidini has been at the forefront of them all. As a member of the Rheostatics, Bidini helped sow the seeds that have grown into Canada’s independent music scene as we know it. Since the Rheos played their final show at Toronto’s Massey Hall (incredibly, 10 years ago) Bidini has continued to carry the torch with Bidiniband, comprised of himself, one-time Rheos drummer Don Kerr, guitarist Paul Linklater, and bassist Doug Friesen.
The Motherland is Bidiniband’s third album, and its most sonically diverse and lyrically compelling to date. It may not be accurate to call it a “concept record,” although the album was constructed around strong notions of what it means to be Canadian today. As a songwriter and author, Bidini has been a master of seeing Canada in ways most of us rarely perceive, from capturing the essence of gritty, small-town experiences to celebrating the simple pleasure of seeing a hungry young band perform in a small club. While scholars continue making grand pronouncements on Canadian culture, Bidini keeps accurately documenting it all with everything he writes.
The Motherland was laid to tape during an intense six-day stretch at Toronto’s Revolution Recording. Utilizing the studio’s vintage 1973 Neve console—previously housed at RCA’s New York studio—co-producer Joe Dunphy channeled the band’s raw energy into performances that blend prog-rock grandiosity and experimentalism with touches of heart-melting Americana and pure foot-stomping rawk. Michael-Philip Wojewoda mixed the album with the usual flair he’s added to the lengthy list of projects he and Bidini have collaborated on. Call The Motherland Bidini’s White Album or Quadrophenia, or call it simply a record that distills nearly a lifetime of playing every corner of the nation into a message of hope for all who still believe in the power of rock and roll to increase the volume of voices in society that aren’t being heard.
“Art becomes more important the older I get,” Bidini says. “I believe it’s the artist’s job to draw a line in the sand, and I think the songwriting choices were a little bit more primal on this album. Punk doesn’t necessarily mean just four chords. Punk is a mindset. It’s how you see yourself in the greater world.”
The Motherland definitely doesn’t hold back in criticizing the direction Canada has taken under the leadership of Stephen Harper. The military theme of the title track sets the tone, which comes to full fruition on “All Hail Canada,” a biting assessment of Harper’s attempts to reshape Canada’s image.
Those who first encountered Bidini’s work on the Rheos’ sprawling masterpieces Whale Music and Introducing Happiness will undoubtedly appreciate the initial uninterrupted flow of The Motherland, and especially a bold remake of the Rheos’ classic “Fat.” The addition of Miranda Mulholland’s fiddle makes this new version’s climax even more exhilarating. But like all of Bidini’s work, The Motherland is not without its lighter moments. His irreverence shines through brightest on “Ladies Of Montreal,” a T. Rex-style rocker that conjures up vivid images of hitting the bars on Saint Catherine Street after a Ken Dryden shutout at the Forum. (Not to worry, Bidini will always be a proud Torontonian, and frustrated Leafs fan.)
The Motherland concludes with another epic suite that returns to the album’s original musical themes, appropriately accentuated by the voice of Al Purdy, Canada’s great poet of the masses. The sample reinforces Bidini’s feelings on how far we have drifted as a nation, and how badly we need to fight the forces bent on dividing us even further.
The Motherland was forged in the heat of powerful emotions that ran the gamut from fist-pumping joy to fear and loathing. It is sure to stir up similar emotions within the listener. This is the album that Canada needs right now.