Of ice and blues

There's an old episode of On the Road Again that features wacky cult-hero Wynona-Sue Turnpike speaking to Barbara Chamberlin on a split-screen.

There’s an old episode of On the Road Again that features wacky cult-hero Wynona-Sue Turnpike speaking to Barbara Chamberlin on a split-screen.

Turnpike asks Chamberlin whether she will ever be influenced by the persona of Wynona-Sue in her music – Chamberlin just shrugs.

She was in effect speaking to herself – Chamberlin played the role of Wynona-Sue in the 1994 camp flick Highway of Heartache that shot Chamberlin into cult-stardom.

Now, more than 10 years later, Chamberlin has drawn from Turnpike’s off-the-cuff advice – she’s taken the quirky, vivacious character and applied it to her most recent album, Of Ice and Men.

“I’m a much happier person since my last album, I’ve learned a lot about life,” said Chamberlin.

Her last album, Walking with the Ghost, released in 2005, dealt with Chamberlin’s struggle with cancer. It was, as one of Chamberlin’s friends admitted to her later, “kind of depressing.”

It was an album she also wasn’t entirely satisfied with.

“I didn’t quite get what I wanted on that last album,” she said.

“With this recent album I got more of a sense of wildness in there rather than that ‘MOR’, middle-of -the-road thing I got in my last album.”

Her return from a life lived under the shadow of cancer has taught her to be more relaxed and to laugh more freely at things, she said.

“This CD is more reflective of Wynona-Sue – songs like Moose Camp – they’re fun to listen to and more fun to write.”

The record, which has taken Chamberlin four years to write and record, is a distinct move away from her other two albums, which are poppier and infused with folk music and world beats.

Chamberlin’s recent album is laced with a heavy dose of blues, a style she says gives her more freedom to experiment with her voice than folk music does.

The album features keyboard, guitar and bass accompaniment from Portland musicians, David Vest, Mark Powers, Terry Rob and John Pounds. Chamberlin grew up in Portland and it is a place she dubs, “the city of blues and jazz.”

The musicians, who have shared the stage with performers like Bob Marley, John Lennon, Floyd Dixon, and Billy Joel, are headed to the Yukon this weekend for the release and tour of Chamberlin’s recent CD.

They’ll also be offering workshops in Whitehorse, a stipulation for Chamberlin receiving grant funding to produce her latest album.

An international cast of musicians on her record has proven to be both a boon and a challenge for Chamberlin.

Having American musicians to tour with has meant that she can travel more easily through the United States.

“It’s very tough for Canadians to play in the US. They have to go through unions and it costs lots of money,” said Chamberlin.

“It can guide the whole tour.”

But working with non-local musicians also created a long-distance headache for Chamberlin, who could only record in Portland when her schedule allowed, which was usually only once or twice a year.

This meant that some material got lost between recordings, and that any recordings she did in Yukon with her Mac computer didn’t always properly convert to a PC format.

“It was really hard, I’m never doing that again,” said Chamberlin.

As the daughter of a music teacher, Chamberlin has always played music and grew up learning instruments such as piano and flute.

“My family and I, we’d always be singing in the car and we’d never opt for just singing the straight melody; it always had to be harmonies,” she said with a smile.

Now she has music students of her own and conducts the Whitehorse Community Choir during her spare time.

Her live performance career began as a bass player in a rock band. She moved up to the Yukon with her all-female band, the Cover Girls, some 20 years ago.

The Yukon shares a lot of similarities with her hometown. For example, “both Oregonians and Yukoners have a love of the outdoors,” she said.

The territory plays prominently in many of Chamberlin’s songs, the history and landscape of which consistently surface in songs like Ice Fog Blues where she sings of “ravens at her heels” and “folks down south who don’t know how it feels.”

“Even songs that don’t appear to be about the North are, like the song, House of Love, she said.

Chamberlin officially launches her album, Of Ice and Men, at the Yukon Arts Centre on Saturday at 8 p.m. The following evening she’ll host a jam at the Gold Rush Inn at 8 p.m

Workshops in guitar, bass, and drum with Chamberlin’s backup musicians run from this Sunday through to Wednesday. To sign up call 667-4059

Contact Vivian Belik at vivianb@yukon-news.com