Before Andrew Morrison could marry bandmate Nancy Mike, her father insisted that he “learn to speak,” that is, that he learn to speak Inuktitut—a task the lead singer of Nunavut’s popular The Jerry Cans took seriously.
Inuusiq/Life is sung almost entirely in Inuktitut and is the first release by Aakuluk Music, Nunavut’s first record label. Three members of The Jerry Cans, including Morrison, Mike and Steve Rigby, founded the company to produce and promote other Inuit artists nationally and internationally—even as their own music strives to capture northern culture and share it beyond the borders of Canada’s territories.
From songs about the seal hunt to places in and around Iqaluit, The Jerry Cans have made a point about making their home key to their music. Bassist Brendan Doherty and drummer Rigby used to play hard rock and metal, while Morrison also tried to find a place in rock music before embracing the diversity of sounds that had, one way or another, found their way to Canada’s north.
Inuusiq/Life is an infectious mix of folk, from raucous hints of The Pogues and Spirit of the West (both cited as influences) to the soulful heartbreak of Celtic tunes brought over by European explorers—with a dash of reggae thrown in to make the album a truly global creature.
But throughout it all is a very pronounced sense of home, from the sled dogs on “Intro” to the sound of snow crunching under foot and gulls crying out over the water. It’s impossible not to think of our winters—and summers—listening to the music shift pace, and on tracks like “Arnalukaq” I can’t help but remember, vividly, the sound of ice crystals shimmering against each other on Yellowknife’s Great Slave Lake.
“Nirliit” presses ever onward as violinist (and lone transient member) Gina Burgess keeps pace before Mike and Morrison trade back-and-forths and barrel into the chorus. “Maikliqta” brings in the reggae infusion, while “Paniarjuk” plunges into the rapid delivery of a classic country sing-a-long, and “Tusaavit” brings its beautiful melody to the album’s second half.
Mike’s throat singing fills the album, but truly captivates on “Ukiuq,” a song reprised again as “Northern Lights” at the very end of the album, but so much richer in Inuktitut, as Morrison’s baritone bounces off Mike’s powerful breaths. Standing at the beginning and end of the album, both versions of song are more than enough to fill you with an insatiable longing for the Northern Lights, clear skies and wide landscapes.
The same could be said for the entire album.
Top Tracks: “Ukiuq”; “Tusaavit”
Rating: Hunting Call (Excellent) + *swoop*