The Sound Cafe
Guitarist/Singer/Composer Don Ross Captures The Sunny, Breezy Joy of Being Alive In 'Seabright'
By Eric Alper. Photo Credit: Charlotte Hale
Water can be a source of calm and healing for many people, and singer-songwriter Don Ross is no exception. In fact, looking out his window at St. Margaret’s Bay, and rowing across it on a skiff with his dog, were the things that kept him most balanced and centered during the pandemic. In celebration, he composed his aptly-titled new album Water along with its optimistic single “Seabright”.
An instrumental acoustic guitar piece, “Seabright” wraps the listener in warm sunny tones along with finger-picking that evokes shimmering waters and the cascading of oars. You can almost feel the wind whipping your hair, too, with its joyous whimsy and playful rhythm.
The song’s name derives from the name of the small settlement where Ross and his wife lived for those three pandemic years. “The ironic sense of optimism that came out of the time of sanctuary is reflected in the tune,” Ross says. “The whole piece feels like a celebration – perhaps I was just feeling lucky/fortunate to be alive and healthy despite the surrounding chaos.”
In 2020, Covid forced Ross off the road, and he began studying for his Master’s degree in Orchestration online, with St. Margaret’s Bay shimmering right outside his window. At that point, with his last solo album having come out six years prior, he began to wonder how he was going to release another full-length album.
“I was wondering if the almost 35-year cycle of recording a new album and touring and playing live was more or less done for me,” he divulges. “But, I finally decided that I would do a new, sweeping-gesture of a record that would better reflect what I’ve been up to musically lately.” He decided he’d release it 100-percent independently, then embarked on a Kickstarter fundraising project and raised his goal within 28 hours.
“This afforded me the opportunity to be a bit more ambitious on this album, hiring an orchestra, and having wonderful guest musicians,” he says, naming Bruce Cockburn, Michael Manring, Brooke Miller and Sean Hall and The Atlantic String Machine. And hence, Water was born.
“I have lived surrounded by water for large chunks of my life,” Ross says. “Also, I spent countless hours during my Orchestration degree working in my studio that looked out onto the waters of St Margaret’s Bay, and the presence of this huge body of water literally metres from where I was working was imposing, but also a source of security during Covid. Meanwhile, it often felt like the whole world was figuratively living underwater during the pandemic. Now, it feels like I am able to resurface, along with the rest of the world.”
Don Ross was born and raised in Montreal and has lived in various parts of Canada over the course of his life. The son of a Mi’kmaw Indigenous mother and a Scottish immigrant father, he graduated with a BA in music from York University and started working as a full-time musician in 1988. That year, he won the US National Fingerpick Guitar Championship for the first time (he’d win again in ’96), and also played with his quartet Eye Music at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.
Signing a solo recording contract with Duke Street Records that same year, he went on to release two CDs of solo guitar music for the label in 1989 and 1990, as well as a third CD featuring vocal music, full band arrangements, and solo guitar tunes in 1993. Then came a deal with Sony Music/Columbia Records, and three more albums, as well as a licensing deal with US-based Narada Records. Signing directly with Narada in 1998, Don went on to release three CDs for the label. Passion Session, released in 1999, has gone on to be considered one of the high water marks in the world of modern solo guitar, with several of the tunes now considered more or less standard repertoire in the genre.
Don released Huron Street in 2001, an album of reinterpretations of earlier work never previously released internationally. It went on to spend two weeks in the Billboard Top Ten’s “New Age” chart. He then toured the world extensively, before signing to internet-based label startup CandyRat Records, and became the company’s first signed artist. Since then, Don has released multiple CDs for the label, as well as three other albums independently. In 2021, Don won the prestigious Walter Carsen Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts, administered by the Canada Council for the Arts.
Don Ross: www.instagram.com/donrossmusic