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With the 2023 Juno Awards being hosted at Rogers Place on Monday, some of the nominated artists won’t have far to travel to the ceremony. A number of Edmonton and Northern Alberta artists have been nominated for a diverse range of musical works that fall within several categories.
The Bearhead Sisters, Cikwes, Northern Cree and Joel Wood
Simply put: Our local Indigenous musicians have a stranglehold on the Junos’ Traditional Indigenous Artist or Group of the Year category, with four of the five nominees hailing from our neck of the woods. The Bearhead Sisters, Cikwes, Northern Cree and Joel Wood are nominated for creating music that is enthralling and striking.
The three Paul First Nation sisters who make up The Bearhead Sisters have long been known for their electric singing, full of melody and emotion. The trio’s latest album, Unbreakable, is full of moving vocals and positive affirmations, making for a powerful listen.
Bigstone Cree Nation’s Cikwes released kâkîsimo ᑳᑮᓯᒧᐤ, a Cree language album that addresses all facets of life with just her entrancing chanting and a simple, but very effective hand-drum accompaniment. The heavy-hitter in this category is definitely Northern Cree, the Grammy-nominated collective that’s been wowing audiences with its energetic performances for 40 years and is nominated for its 2022 release, Ôskimacîtahowin: A New Beginning. The album is propulsive and infectious; driving drums provide a backbeat for a cavalcade of voices consisting of members who hail from Treaty 6 territory. Joel Wood, also a member of Northern Cree, is nominated for his album, Mikwanak Kamôsakinat. The Maskwacis musician’s album might be nominated under the traditional category, but there is a contemporary bent to his songs that has his multi-tracked vocals over beats that hint at drum loops.
Edmonton’s stalwart family of folkies, The McDades, is nominated for Traditional Roots Album of the Year for 2021’s The Empress. Rooted in Celtic music, The Empress is a spirited journey across 11 tracks that range from Americana (The Golden Willow Tree) to a Gordon Lightfoot cover (Sundown) while interspersed with violin-infused, jig-ready instrumentals.
Don’t dismiss children’s music artists, as they frequently have rich, varied musical repertoires and Edmonton’s Beppie, who is up for 2023 Children’s Album of the Year for her album, Nice to Meet you, is no exception. Beppie, Stephanie Nhan, knows how to craft a hook that will have kids dancing and yelping silly choruses. Best (or worst) of all: parents will have these songs burrowed into their brains for days.
Grande Prairie’s Tenille Townes is continuing her musical journey with her EP Masquerades, up for Country Album of the Year. Masquerades blurs the lines between contemporary country and pop music, with songs like the soulful duet with Wrabel on When You Need It and the sparse The Sound of Being Alone which finds her veering into Lana Del Ray territory. Masquerades is an intriguing preview into Townes’ next chapter.
You can take the band out of Edmonton but can’t take Edmonton out of the band, which is why we’re still claiming ex-pats Altameda as one of ours. The group, now a duo, is up for Adult Alternative Album of the Year for the gorgeous Born Losers. The alternative-folk rockers recorded Born Losers from a place of sorrow and contemplation, as Troy Snaterse wrote the lyrics to the songs while dealing with the crushing duel blow of nearly losing his father to a stroke, followed by the death of his 18-year-old stepbrother. Born Losers is rife with strings, synths and acoustic guitars. There’s an experimental streak throughout Born Losers that layers horns into Sweet Susie and has the jaunty piano-led title track that harkens to Wilco’s poppier material.
Speaking of ex-pats, the Kubasonics, now based out of St. John’s, are nominated for Album Artwork of the Year for the incredibly intricate art of the band’s self-titled release. Art director Jud Haynes’ ambitious design is based on the traditional Ukrainian artform of paper cutting. Each cover was handmade by Haynes, totalling 400+ hours of designing, cutting and folding to create a one-of-a-kind release.