Prairie Oyster frontman strikes out on his own

As a part of Canadian country music band Prairie Oyster, Russell deCarle has been making music in the public eye for the past 40 years. Not only is Prairie Oyster one of Canada’s longest running country acts, it is also one of the most popular, earning four number one singles and numerous Canadian Country Music Awards over the course of its career. The group was also inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008.

And though Prairie Oyster continues to perform, deCarle has struck out on his own for his first solo record, Under The Big Sky, released last November in Canada. Like The Mavericks before him, the genres that encompass deCarle’s record are not limited to straight ahead country. From the moment deCarle’s record starts with a finely interpreted cover of East of the Sun, West of the Moon, listeners are taken on a journey through musical territories including jazz, swing and more. Blurring musical boundaries on his record fits deCarle as well as an old suit, his smooth vocals blending seamlessly into the mix.

deCarle is set to perform at Plan B in Moncton on Monday night.

From his home in Ontario, deCarle admits that in the earliest stages of making Under The Big Sky, he had planned on the record being devoted entirely to cover songs. Influenced equally by George Jones and Merle Haggard as much as Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, deCarle found that as he got deeper and deeper into the project, the songwriting bug bit him and he was soon devoting the bulk of his recording hours to original material instead of covers.

“I had been thinking about making a solo record for quite some time,” the easy-going deCarle says. “I have had numerous opportunities to make a solo record over the years but just never sat down and started the ball rolling.

“At first, I thought I would do some standards; I wanted to do something different for this record rather than just making a straight-ahead country effort. I like to consider myself a singer first and foremost; the genre is almost secondary.”

Admitting that each of the songs on his record are quite different from one another, deCarle’s record swings with continuity in spite of the musical differences between the songs. Recorded with long-time friend John Sheard, deCarle’s album was the first time that he and Sheard had worked together on an album, despite having played together in the past. Asked what Sheard brought to the making of Under The Big Sky, deCarle gushes at Sheard’s multi-talented ways. “He really just is an amazing producer. He has a great sensibility about him, has great ears and is a great musician. Plus, he is a great friend to boot.

“What was probably most important to us when we were making the record is that we were on the same page in terms of the type of album that we wanted to make. Sonically, we wanted to make a record that we would want to listen to as fans. We both feel that so many modern records are mixed to sound extremely harsh; the bottom end is disappearing from albums and we really wanted to get back to making a record that sounded good.”

DeCarle goes on to note that the making of Under The Big Sky was more about capturing the right emotion to suit the track instead of opting for the perfect take of any given song.

With a backing cast of musicians including Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy, Amos Garrett and David Wilcox, getting the perfect take should not have been a concern of anybody involved in the recording process.

“It is a very organic record and features a ton of good playing,” deCarle says. “The rhythm section was recorded entirely live off the floor and man, those guys really killed it. Going into the studio, I felt that everything should swing and have a good flow to the songs and I feel that we captured that on this record.”

With Under The Big Sky Having taken the better part of three years to complete, deCarle is confident that a follow-up release will not take nearly as long to see the light of day.

“The response to this record has been great and we have been having a great time on the road. It definitely will not be taking quite as long to do another album.”

Article published in July 1, 2011 edition of the Times & Transcript