"The two things that drive me are love and hate"
- Cody Canada, March 2014
The latest, tight incarnation of the Cody Canada-led group The Departed isn’t a reinvention of the group’s sound, or a reimagining of Canada’s musical perspective – it’s a reunion. As with any reunion, the passing years have provided the involved parties with new and unique perspectives, breathing vibrant excitement into their streamlined new environment.
Canada, Jeremy Plato, Chris Doege and Steve Littleton are reopening the doors to a sonic garage where sounds and stories some thought were gone for good are now being unleashed onto an eager public after a few years of fruitful – even risky -- artistic diversion. Being guided by raw emotion and nerves that are often unguarded, Canada hasn’t begun to pluck the opening notes to an increasing number of Cross Canadian Ragweed favorites without some reluctance or painful reminiscence, mind you. But the powerful nature of such visceral connections is what makes his stories stunning while rightfully placing him in a prominent class of modern songwriters occupied by the influential likes of Robert Earl Keen, Bruce and Charlie Robison, Todd Snider, Mike McClure and the men of Reckless Kelly, among only a strict few others.
To be clear, the men of the Departed are not the frat-house faves many of the latest generation of river-tubing popsters are. Ideals and experiences of a person enduring the sometimes harsh realities of the real world demand space in a Departed concert.
In the wake of Ragweed’s 2010 dissolution, most fans likely expected – and few would’ve blamed – Canada for adhering to the heart-sleeved, Okie-rocker recipe that propelled Canada into a true Rock Star realm. Bolstering his bad-ass bona-fides even more, however, was his decision to choose the dirt road less traveled. By finally partnering up with Seth James, a long-time friend universally admired for his soulful skills, Canada’s words had a different backdrop that certainly represented commercial risk, but offered an unusually fresh outlet where the iconic songs of his past, for a while, stayed in the past. For three years, Canada became a side-man for sections of each concert as the Departed quickly built a reputation as a crack band focused on packing as much expertly-curated song-craft into each show as possible, eschewing the demands for “more Ragweed!”
With the chill of 2014’s winter thawing into the haziness of the spring and the Departed now having played as a powerful four-piece for several months following James’ amicable exit, Canada’s appreciation for the truly remarkable, intensely personal body of work he created as he fronted Ragweed is intact, and indeed, fresh with the passing of time and the healing of emotional wounds. Unsurprisingly, fans are exuberantly responding to the inclusion of classics such as “Alabama,” “Dimebag,” and “17” into set-lists for Departed shows. The refitted outfit is channeling the power chords and raw-bone ballads which vaulted Canada into the status as Red Dirt’s biggest name for so long.
This is not a comeback. This isn’t a rebirth.
This is a rock and roll renewal only an artist with Canada’s strength of will and determined vision is capable of. He’s making great use of a rare chance few artists ever receive. He now knows what he only started to understand many years ago, and his words are all the more impactful as a result.
Canada’s story as an artist can largely be told through his songs of universal themes filtered through his dynamic outlook. Since 1998, when Canada and his fellow Departed mate Jeremy Plato began performing as members of Cross Canadian Ragweed, tales circling around love, hate, life and death have been dramatic constants in the messages Canada’s songs convey. While certainly many of the songs from Canada’s Ragweed years, and even from his more recent Departed catalog, can be proper party anthems, one is missing out a great deal by only knocking back shots during his songs, and not letting the lyrics sink in from time to time. The meanings and values of songs can change with the times.
As Canada offers on his solo-acoustic debut, 'Some Old, Some New, Maybe a Cover or Two', songs that burn into one’s memory don’t always come from places of extreme pain. Canada’s gift as a songwriter is revealed best in his ability to take a simple thought and spin it into profound gold.
"Running from your folks, running from the law. Running from love, running from your fears, running from it all. "
“17” (Cross Canadian Ragweed)
“I get to do what I do now because of ’17,’” Canada told Lone Star Music Magazine in December of 2013, just as his solo debut was ready for release. “Jason Boland and I were on a beer run in my hometown a few years ago, and when we passed a cop, I kind of freaked-out… Jason said, ‘well, you’re always 17 in your hometown.’”
Of course, that fan-favorite is but one song that was meaningful upon its inception, and in fact, carries more weight now that time has passed and maturity has lent an added importance. A writer that expertly draws from the memory chest built by his family and musical heroes, Canada understands the power of emotions tied to memories and uses them to paint indelible images.
"I used to get stoned on my sister’s record collection. Gold and platinum on vinyl was the closest thing to perfection."
“Sister” (Cross Canadian Ragweed)
“I hold ‘Sister’ really close to my heart,” says Canada. “In 1998, we played at an FFA convention in Fort Worth with Stoney Larue. After the show, my sister came up to me and handed me this present, which was a box of all her records I listened to growing up, and I wept right there. I still get chills thinking about it. In that box, she had given me my musical history.”
“In 2012, Ragweed had been finished for a couple of years, and the Departed were prepping for their first album of original material following their expertly interpreted collection of covers from legendary Okie writers such as Tom Skinner. But in order for Canada, Plato, Doege, James and Littleton to really forge ahead, the past had to be addressed in as direct of a manner as possible.
“Let’s burn it ‘til its ashes, sweep it out the door, ‘cuz I don’t want it hanging out around you anymore… And that’s a cold hard fact, won’t be coming back."
“Cold Hard Fact” (Cody Canada & the Departed)
“Jeremy [Plato] and I were getting grilled every night about the Ragweed break-up,” he says. “But my wife Shannon (who also manages the Departed, among many other notable artists), was getting blamed for everything that went wrong with Ragweed, though she had nothing to do with it. The first verse of ‘Cold Hard Fact’ is for her, actually.”
Forward motion and progress interest Canada in-terms of what he and his mates offer artistically. Dealing with the musical present and future required a rallying cry for higher standards among fellow artists as well.
"You tell me how to feel but it doesn’t matter anyway, the only thing that’s real is the lies that you tell."
"We’ll never fail together."
“Flagpole” (Cody Canada & the Departed)
“I heard a song on the radio and I was angered by its alleged message,” admits Canada. “So I reacted by writing my own song. I turned that anger into a request for the bands we love, like Reckless Kelly, to get together to make great music that will bring people together. I wanted to turn my anger into something positive.
What is most positive about Canada’s present, and certainly, the Departed’s collective future, is that the courage displayed in choosing paths other artists wouldn’t dare consider made them a better band. It is now that Canada can look back to appreciate the command his songs – whether they be newly minted or trusted classics – have on an audience, and indeed, on himself.
In a fortuitous turn, Canada was once reminded by a long-time supporter that songs live forever, not the artists who wrote them. Thankfully for fans across the country, Canada has decided he wants to spend as much time with the songs that define his extraordinary life as he can, for as long as he’s breathing.
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