Farmer’s songs capture life on the Prairies

Corinne Newton describes her music as a traditional sound that lyrically, tells stories of prairie people. | Shelby Godick photo

Saskatchewan singer/songwriter celebrates an appreciation of the realities that are found on the Canadian Prairies

Farming and rural living are the driving forces behind singer/songwriter Corinne Newton (nee Mervyn), originally from the Strathclair, Man., area, who now lives and farms with her husband and two children on their century farm near Central Butte, Sask.

Her latest release, a five-song extended play album, Real Life Reality, is an extension of her life on the Prairies and reflects her life experiences and every day encounters.

“The Prairies and rural life in general are what drives my inspiration for songs,” said Newton.

“With only a few exceptions, my songs have always been about something I’ve lived. Most of my life has been spent on the Prairies so that’s what my music is mainly about — the prairies and prairie people.”

With a recognizable sound, a cross between Patty Loveless and Jo Dee Messina, and a story-telling style falling somewhere between Mary Chapin Carpenter and Corb Lund, the new EP, like all of her albums before, is all Corinne Newton.

She experienced some firsts this time around: recording an EP rather tahn a full-length album; being the first artist to record in the new studio of Mike Beaudry at Sonar Records in nearby Tugaske, Sask.; and enlisting Beaudry’s help with the instrumentation along with another local friend, Glenna Switzer, on keyboard. She handled acoustic guitar and of course, all of the vocals.

Prior to this album, she recorded in a studio in her basement, using recording software on her laptop and dubbing in her own tracks on every instrument (bass guitar, electric guitar, mandolin, drums) and all of the vocals, including backgrounds. She wrote, played, sang, recorded, produced and marketed all of her own original material — a true do-it-yourself project. The only thing she hasn’t been able to do herself are the photos. Luckily, she has a photographer friend who was able to come out and do a photo shoot for the album cover.

“Technology is sure handy for DIY,” she chuckled. “Social media is our friend as well. I like making videos so YouTube is another go to.”

Newton holds a certificate in media production from Assiniboine Community College, which she received in 1995. Those video editing skills are now coming in handy.

Newton has always loved music. She and her three siblings came from a musical family: her parents and her grandparents all played at least one, if not multiple instruments. Her dad played guitar with the Strathclair Rhythmaires and her mom played piano and sang, both doing so by ear. Newton’s mother had her in piano lessons by the time she was five, but it was never her true calling so she made the switch to guitar at the age of 12, and has never looked back.

“I always said I wanted to be able to play the guitar like my dad and sing like my mom,” she said. “I’m still working on those.”

When she started taking media production courses at ACC, she started recording her music.

“I remember bringing home a little Tascam four-track recorder where you used a cassette to record on,” she recalled. “Dad and I had a blast with it. So, when I got my first paycheck with Pioneer Grain, I bought a nice little recording unit to play around with.”

Growing up on a farm near Strathclair provided many opportunities for Newton to grow musically. She played in the school and community bands from Grade 7 through to Grade 12, and she was involved with the Strathclair Drama Club.

Over the years, she did it all: from acting, to working the lights and sound, to playing bass guitar in the pit, and everything in between. She also was part of the Last Little Bar Band along with fellow musicians Scott Falloon, Chris Nakonechny, Morgan Ashcroft and Dan Voth, and played all types of venues before her move from Manitoba in 2002.

“There were so many opportunities for a small town,” she reminisced.

The writing came when she was about 15 or 16, although she never really shared any of those early works with anyone. It was purely therapeutic and provided an outlet for her thoughts. She still finds solace in that today.

“I have a lot of sad songs,” she admitted. “When Mom passed away (in 2003), music was therapy and I have a lot of songs about her. I think some of my best songs are those sad ones; probably because they really do come from the heart.”

That’s not the case with her latest album, which is upbeat and unique.

“There’s enough sadness and negativity in the world right now,” she said.

The title track, Real Life Reality, sums up the tone of the album; people living real life experiences, without the use of technology, and connecting with nature and each other.

For the music video, she’s taken snippets from real-life videos that folks from across the Prairies submitted, and compiled them with the title track, now available on YouTube.

“The song just kind of flowed out of me,” said Newton, who actually wrote the song a few years ago, but never released it. Given the current state of affairs in the world, 2021 seemed like the perfect opportunity.

“Looking at those devices and technology, there’s just a lot of negativity, so if we can just set it aside for a while, we’ll see there’s a lot of things to look at other than that.”

The Dugout is as country, Canadian and farmy as it gets. It tells of all the adventures and fun that those particular bodies of water have provided for farm kids for decades.

Songs About Trains is a throwback to the greats like Wabash Cannonball and the Orange Blossom Special with a shout out to old-time country artists like Johnny Cash, Roy Acuff and Box Car Willie. The scratchy, vintage feeling intro is perfect, followed by the toe-tapping, contagious beat reminiscent of a train a-comin’ round the bend.

The single, 1905, is a tribute to our homesteading ancestors particularly those who settled in the Palliser Triangle.

A comment from her farmer husband, “I’m tired, I’m broke and I just don’t care”, led to the title and subsequent writing of one of the more humorous, yet subtle but playfully accurate songs rounding out the EP.

“The only slow one I put on this one is kind of funny, I think,” said Newton. “Real life, I guess that’s my inspiration.”

She describes her music as a traditional sound that lyrically, tells stories of prairie people.

“I think of Stompin’ Tom and how he found stories right here in Canada. I love Canadian country music and I try to keep my music Canadian. I really don’t see why every country song has to have an American city in it. We have our own stories to tell here, and I love to just be able to tell them,” she said.

Influenced by 1980s rock and 1990s country, what she hopes most as an artist is that her songs resonate with people.

“I hope people can listen to my music and say ‘that’s my story,’ or ‘I know exactly what she means.’ And in some cases, to know that they’re not alone,” she added. “I think the biggest achievement has to be when someone tells you how much your song means to them and how they can relate to it. I want to make music that makes people feel better. That’s really what it’s all about.”

Newton didn’t plan on making the album at this time because she had decided to take a step back from her music to spend more time with her young family. However, with COVID-19 affecting the number of extracurricular activities her kids normally attend, it inadvertently freed up time for Newton herself, allowing her to continue on her musical journey.

“Trying to find a balance is the hardest part, but this COVID break has allowed me the time to make some more music without missing out on any of the kid’s activities,” she said, thankful for the opportunity the COVID restrictions presented. “Everyone has a ‘thing’ and music is mine.”

While music is her passion, she realizes that it is not her living. Not that she’s sorry at all; along with music, farming has been an integral part of her life.

“It’s a tough one and that’s why I keep my day job — (music) is not paying the farm bills,” she laughed wryly. “As an independent artist with a limited budget, you just can’t compete with the big guys so I don’t try to. I just make my music and those that like it will listen, and those that don’t, won’t. Those that like it don’t mind paying for it — they appreciate the investment that artists make in both time and money.”

Since its release on March 12, Newton said the album has generated excellent feedback.

“I’m very appreciative of the support local radio has given me,” she said. “The response with listeners has been extremely positive, especially with the single, Real Life Reality.”

Just a farm girl who likes to sing, play and write. That pretty much sums up Corinne Newton.

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