Northern exposure 

Tricky Woo is just oh, so Canadian—and good

Canada, with her ketchup-flavored and “All Dressed!” potato chips and the best candy bar in the world (the Coffee Crisp, which, though not actually made in Canada, seems to be found there exclusively), is a strange and wondrous place. There’s something so ineffably Canadian about it. Even the gas stations look like they were molded out of a single piece of red and white plastic.

Canadian radio, as you may have heard, is subject to a law that makes it more Canadian than it would actually be otherwise. Enacted by the Canadian Radio-Television Commission in 1970, the Canadian Content Rule initially stipulated that no less than 30 percent of AM radio programming be Canadian in origin, i.e., Canadian artists. It’s since been expanded to include FM programming and an even bigger slice—35 percent or more—of the content pie.

In the short term, you can see where CanCon would be a boon to up-and-coming Canadian artists wherever DJs tire of trundling out Guy Lombardo records, Rush B-sides and the Guess Who to meet their quota. Without the legally assured Lebensraum of content laws, Canadian telecommunication analysts reckon, homegrown artists might account for one percent or less of all programming and, hence, feel more inclined to look for better prospects elsewhere. They cite the case of Neil Young, who might never have sought greener pastures in the United States if the pre-1970 lack of such a rule hadn’t made it impossible for his old band, the Squires, to be heard at home.

As with most cultural protection laws of this kind, however, the potential for folly and misapplication is high. Bryan Adams himself fell foul of CanCon in 1992 when his Waking Up the Neighbors album was found to be not Canadian enough for CRTC officials because a number of the songs were co-written with a British producer. In any case, you also have to wonder if the protected status of Canadian music doesn’t contribute to an illusively—not to say deluded—sense of market share among Canadian artists calculating their odds in America.

Montreal-based trio Tricky Woo are currently being pumped as the Next Big Canadian Thing. And they are a really good band—a band you’d want to see at a crowded, off-the-hook house party. Their most recent CD, Les Sables Magiques dishes up eleven songs of sturdy, bluesy rock with flashes of psychedelia and relentless drive.

At times they’ve got the swagger of the Black Crowes, at others they sound just as giddy as their British Columbian cousins, the Smugglers.

If it were just a matter of being good at playing party rock, the world would be Tricky Woo’s oyster. I’d go see this band in a heartbeat, but I won’t be looking for them in the American charts anytime soon, if that’s what they’re going for, because meat-and-potatoes rock doesn’t truck like it used to. Not quite fashionably evolved enough for the American market but far too talented to hide their light under a bushel basket back home, there’s nothing wrong with dreaming a little dream. And I’ll definitely be listening for them next time I’m in Winnipeg.

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