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Fort Macleod inspires title track on Wort Hannam’s latest album

Singer-songwriter John Wort Hannam is releasing his seventh album, ‘Acres of Elbow Room.’ He has up-coming concerts at Twin Butte on Sept. 7 and the Geomatic Attic in Lethbridge on Sept. 9. Photo by David Guenther.

Fort Macleod has long had a special place in the heart of singer-songwriter John Wort Hannam, a former resident of the town.
Now the community has a special place in Wort Hannam’s seventh album, Acres of Elbow Room.
“The album title and the title track are about Fort Macleod and more specifically my move from Fort Macleod to the big city of Lethbridge,” said Wort Hannam, who lives in the city with his wife Jenny and their son Charlie.
“While I enjoy aspects of city living, I often crave the simpler life that Fort Macleod offers: the easy access to the river, knowing people on the street and their names, lack of rush hour, not having to drive for blocks to find a parking spot and not to mention I now have to pay every time I leave the Home Depot. No more Economy Lumber ‘throw it on my tab’ as I run out the door. ”
“I especially miss the Wilderness Park across the green bridge. I used to go there a lot with my family. In fact that’s what the lyrics in Acres Of Elbow Room are referring to.”
In Acres of Elbow Room, Wort Hannam sings,
“Sometimes I need to breathe, I need to move.”
“I need acres of elbow room.”
“Somewhere where my mind can unravel.”
“Out where the dotted lines turn to gravel.”
Wort Hannam was living in Fort Macleod in 2001 when he quit his teaching job to concentrate full-time on a career as a blue collar roots singer-songwriter.
He released his first album, Pocket Full of Holes, in 2003. That was followed by Dynamite and Dozers in 2004, Two-Bit Suit in 2007, Queen’s Hotel in 2009, Brambles and Thorns in 2012 and Love Lives On in 2015.
Since launching his career Wort Hannam has earned a Juno Award nomination, was the New Folk award winner at the Kerrville Folk Festival, and won the songwriting competition at the Calgary Folk Festival, where he also took the award for best performance.
Those successes didn’t protect Wort Hannam from a mental health issue that almost derailed his career.
“I went through a deep depression a few years ago and among other things it manifested itself in losing my singing voice,” he explained. “Not completely but enough that performing was difficult and because I identify strongly as a singer first, it compounded the anxiety and depression. It was a vicious circle and I couldn’t really write during that time.”
“Once I dealt with some personal things, my voice came back and I started writing songs again. Also, I feel like I got some great advice in songwriting before making this album.”
That advice came at the inaugural singer-songwriter residency at the Banff Centre in March 2017 where Wort Hannam was mentored by Grammy Award-winning performers and songwriters.
“I really learned how to focus my songs. I used to get a little spark for a song — a line or a phrase — and think to myself, ‘I should put that in a song.’ I now realize that little spark ‘is’ the song. Less is more.”
Wort Hannam wrote the songs for Acres of Elbow Room between March and December 2017 and was ready to go into the studio.
Wort Hannam knew what he wanted when he went into the studio to record Acres of Elbow Room, and it wasn’t complicated.
“The only vision I had before entering the studio was that I wanted a very stripped down album, one I could replicate live on stage,” Wort Hannam said. “I wanted a small core band to play sparsely on each tune with few embellishments or overdubbed parts. I think we achieved that.”
Four musicians using four instruments on each song: guitar, bass, drums and keys. The only exception is that violinist Jesse Zubot played on the song Key Of D Minor.
The players on Acres of Elbow Room are Jason Valleau on upright bass, Jon May on drums, Steve Fletcher on keys and Zubot.
Wort Hannam sang The Quiet Life, which is the only cover on the album, as a duet with Calgary songster Emily Triggs, and a handful of Grade 5 students from Fleetwood Bawden school in Lethbridge sang on the song Only Love
Acres of Elbow Room was recorded in Studio One at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity and mixed at Hotel2Tango Studio in Montreal and mastered by Knack Studio in New York City.
The process was new for Wort Hannam, who previously would send the players demos of the songs and record them without working on the arrangement.
“With this record the four of us lived, ate, and holed ourselves up in a room for eight days before we entered the studio. In that time we took the songs apart and put them back together multiple times. We experimented with different tempos, keys, and grooves.”
Wort Hannam said the songs changed greatly during the pre-production stage.
“It was very much a collaborative effort from all players. It felt more like a band creating music instead of hired musicians simply playing on my songs.”
Valleau, May and Fletcher, along with fiddler Scott Duncan will tour with Wort Hannam in support of Acres of Elbow Room.
The tour has stops in Alberta, B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland.
The tour has two stops close to Fort Macleod. The first is Friday, Sept. 7 at the Twin Butte Store. On Sunday, Sept. 9 the band is at the Geomatic Attic in Lethbridge.
More information about the tour is at www.johnworthannam.com.

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