Penguin Eggs, Canada's Folk, Roots & World Music Magazine CD Review

Jon Brooks is a Canadian singer-songwriter from Ontario, former leader of Toronto based band Norge Union til they disbanded in 1995. Brooks then moved to Krakow, Poland, traveled and played around Eastern Europe. He made it to Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, devastated by recent wars and the experience inspired The Latest Great Embarrassment, recorded in Poland in 1997. In 2005 Brooks released his first full length CD, ‘No Mean City’, a thematic observation of urban life as witnessed in Toronto. But because of the vagaries of Canadian independent record releases, none of these earlier recordings had filtered out way out west here, so Jon was completely unknown to me until I received his new CD, the intriguingly titled ‘Ours And The Shepherds’. It is a collection of songs about Canada’s war experience, from WWI through the peacekeeping missions of Rwanda, Bosnia, and Somalia to full involvement in a war in Afghanistan. To do any justice to this theme in 13 songs would seem a dauntingly impossible task. It could have been a predictable polemic, once again stating the obvious. Not here -I am glad to say. Jon pulls it off with brilliance, originality, great skill, emotion, and craft. From ‘Auction Days’ about New Waterford widows after Vimy Ridge to ‘Tajik Boy’, which recounts a combatant’s haunting memories of killing a 14 year-old boy outside Kandahar, this collection is a powerful and stunningly lovely piece of work. The sparsely produced 11 original pieces work very well thematically and more importantly – they also stand alone as good songs – each an individual gem. Included in Jon’ original work, is an original and moving version of ‘In Flanders Fields’ and a song I particularly loved – ‘Cigarettes’- a brilliant love song of sorts to the importance of cigarettes to human beings in times of great stress. ‘Cigarettes’ is taken from the words of Frank P Dixon, a soldier from Elkhorn, Manitoba, who died, at age 20, of wounds inflicted in 1918 and set to a lovely and jaunting melody by Jon. Oh Yeah – the title is taken from a Dorothy Day quote: “Whose fault is it? Ours and the shepherds.” This is a thoroughly wonderful, truly important and satisfying addition to the canon of Canadian folk music. One of the best albums I have heard ever. 

– les siemieniuk 

November, 2007