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  • Writer's pictureStevie Connor

Album Review: 'Prairie Fire' By Canadian Singer-Songwriter & Storyteller Tim Isberg

By Stevie Connor.

When "Prairie Fire" landed on my desk it was from a familiar name, singer-songwriter and storyteller, Albertan, Tim Isberg. As former head of programming at Blues & Roots Radio I was very familiar with his music and back story, as many of the international shows on the station had been playing his songs. A multiple award nominee he has written about life experiences as a veteran soldier, about the many life-changing challenges while deployed in different cultures and conflicts.

When I sat down to listen to his brand new album, set to be released on March 23rd 2024, in Edmonton, my interest peaked immediately, the groove was hypnotic, and the first lines of the opening song "Chasing Memories" drew me into a sense of history, there was an immediate laying down of the scenario, of an early settler to the Canadian prairies, and his hopes, dreams and trepidation of what lay ahead. The song is a perfect example of how to hook your audience in right from the start of an album, catchy song-lines, fantastic and well thought out instrumentation, and Tim's voice is warm and knowledgeable about the story he is telling, there has obviously been a great deal of research that has gone into this release.

I have always been a huge history buff, and I love the art of storytelling, especially through song. In my youth back in Scotland I was raised on stories handed down by my father and grandfather, some through songs called "Bothy Ballads", it was music of the working class field hands, farm labourers and shepherds who would sing these songs to each other while sitting in front of a fire to keep each other company. Bothies are farm outbuildings, where unmarried labourers used to sleep, often in harsh conditions. "Prairie Fire" reminded me of the art form, a fascinating release.

Having moved to Canada as an immigrant, I know little of the history of the western plains and prairies, but, as I listened to each song on "Prairie Fire", here was that very history through Tims magnificently presented songs unfolding in front of me. "Fire Canoe", the first track released from the album tells the vivid story of the early paddle wheel steamboats of the late 19th century on the Saskatchewan River, another masterful picture painted through Tim's cleverly crafted lyrics.

The second track, released earlier this month, "Steel Wheels" is based on the impressive feats and also the impacts brought by the expansion of the Canadian Transcontinental Railway across the west; and its progression despite the consequences to First Nations, Chinese workers and others. Another wonderful song with some fabulous electric guitar work that lends itself to the tale of steel, fire and grit that rolled across the plains to open up Canada in the west, and the legacy it left on the people of the nation.

There are 12 stellar songs on this album, each one tells a unique story, and they blend so well together, Tim Isberg's vocals are perfect for telling these tales, " I wrote Prairie Fire as a history-based theme album of original songs about the people and events from the late 19th century Canadian Prairies and Western Plains. Not only does each song tell a story but my hope is also that they educate and inspire audiences to learn more of the fascinating western history that surrounds us and is part of our heritage

Given the 30 plus years of the era, many indigenous peoples and prairie immigrants and other settler families would have experienced all the events included in the album in their lifetime."

Tim has kept with his winning formula and recorded again with Grammy nominee and JUNO celebrated producer-engineer Miles Wilkinson, and used, for the most part, fellow band mates and those he'd recorded with in the past on the bed tracks: Marc Ladouceur on guitars and mandolin, Derek Vokins on bass, Jamie Cooper on drums, Jeff Bradshaw on pedal steel and dobro.

Stewart MacDougall and Isberg had worked together before, and was a big part of his project in collaborating on lyrics and also providing some piano parts. Maria Dunn on accordion and Shannon Johnson on violin were brought in for selected tracks, some separate, some together. Isberg and his band mates sang many of the backing vocals in addition to backing vocals from Tammy Weis, a local singer now based in Portugal.  All tracks were recorded at DanLyn Studios in Sherwood Park, Alberta.

He adds, "With the concept in mind and some initial songs under my belt, early in 2023 I met with Miles Wilkinson and gave an overview of the idea for the Prairie Fire project to see if he’d be interested in co-producing with me. He loved the concept and readily agreed.  Over several months I wrote songs, recorded demos, and developed a plan for the independent studio recordings and a timeline.  

Miles and I spent a lot of time figuring out what kind of sonic signature the album should have, its instrumentation and the like. I decided I wanted an acoustic feel but not limited to an old traditional sound or instrumentation. The songs and sound needed to reflect the mood and the emotions of the era.  The music is a blend of alt-country and roots of the Americana genre; but more specifically, and literally, Canadian Americana!"

What makes "Prairie Fire" so impressive is the placement of tracks, each has been deliberately set to draw in the listener and tell a specific story in time, and in doing so, educating the listener about how it was back in the 19th century, not just from an immigrants point of view, but also from the side of the First Nation's and Metis peoples, who had been on the land for centuries before. As the listener traverses through the album, you'll begin to get a real sense of the struggles and hardships that were faced in western Canada.

"Prairie Fire" is a masterpiece in storytelling through song, Tim Isberg is an extremely talented and compelling songwriter, and what is equally impressive is that the CD is accompanied by robust liner notes and a booklet with background historical context to the songs, giving a unique insight. I feel as though I've been on a journey and want to find out more!

The cover art is by Edmonton artist Jamie Pruden and layout by local graphic artist Joel Berg, which really makes the album stand out.

Highly recommended listening from one of Canada's great storytellers!


Scan the QR code to read about the second single release.

Steel Wheels is the second single to be released by Albertan, Tim Isberg, and is taken from his much anticipated upcoming album Prairie Fire.

Scan the QR Code to read about the first single release:

Fire Canoe” is the first single from Tim’s upcoming history-based concept album ‘Prairie Fire’.


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