An alternative route to country’s roots
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An alternative route to country’s roots

Musicians who specialize in traditional country music sometimes talk like they’re the last of a dying breed. But Tom Dunphy, whose band The Rizdales performs tomorrow at the Maryhill Commercial Tavern, discovered the form resonating through contemporary music.

Tom and Tara Dunphy have been performing traditional country music together for 10 years. Their band The Rizdales will hit the Commercial Tavern for a Sunday matinee.[Submitted]
Tom and Tara Dunphy have been performing traditional country music together for 10 years. Their band The Rizdales will hit the Commercial Tavern for a Sunday matinee. [Submitted]
“When I was a teenager, I got into punk rock and that sort of thing, and there was emotion in that music that I really liked and could relate to,” recalls Dunphy from his home in London, Ontario.

When Elvis Costello, one of his teenaged favourites, released a country record, Dunphy began to see the parallels between country and punk. “It’s something about the lyrics, something about the song structures, the instruments that are used – particularly in old country music – that cut right through to the soul.”

Is it the purity and simplicity? “There’s a lot of that, but there’s also a lot of clever wordplay,” says Dunphy. “The great country songwriters – guys like Harlan Howard, Buck Owens, Hank Cochran – they’re not throwaway songs. I think a lot of people think that about country music – they’ll hear, ‘I lost my dog, my truck,’ all this stuff – and there isn’t a country song I like that has any of that in it.”

Which is not to say that he and Tara Dunphy – his wife and creative partner – are not attracted to those evergreen themes of love and loss.

“It’s kind of like the blues that way. That particular material, I feel, is something we all can relate to, because we all go through the same type of things. Everybody finds themselves in a relationship or out of a relationship, and a good country song can do wonders for helping someone get over that.”

He continues, “My wife and I, Tara, we co-write all the songs, and we’re very happily married … but you would never know it from the songs that we write.”

A pause. “The songwriting process between the two of us, I’m surprised it hasn’t ended in divorce.”

Dunphy first met Tara when he was performing as part of another London-based country band, the Juke Joint Johnnies. After that band’s dissolution, they married and formed the Rizdales, both in 2004. Ten years and five albums later, Dunphy says they’re still discovering that perfect country song.

“I think we have a better idea of what sounds we’re trying to produce. I think if anything, the music has been simplified since the very beginning. Maybe we were trying too hard then, but we’ve sort of settled into our sound.”

Is it hard listening to the first few albums? “Oh yeah, it’s horrible,” he laughs. “It’s just one of those things. Everyone says their latest record is their best, but we feel that our most recent record…” – that would be How the Marriage Ended, available on iTunes – “…is our best. But a lot of people who have been following us over the years seem to find something that they like in all of them, which we appreciate. So we still play all the songs from those records.”

The band’s progression continues, then, although Dunphy doesn’t know quite where it’s going. “These things have just been naturally evolving for us, so we’re going to take it as it comes,” he says. “We have a lot of great experiences, and hopefully we’ll start writing a new record to be released in the next year or so. Once you put the pen to paper and get a guitar and strum a chord, it just takes on a life of its own. So we’re going to let it take us where it needs to.”

The Rizdales will perform at the Commercial Tavern (1303 Maryhill Rd.) Sunday (September 22), 3-6 p.m. Doors open at 2:30 p.m.

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