Album: Bittern Lake
Label: Mother Earth
Release date: June 1
“That’s always been my mission,” says Les Stroud, environmentalist, musician, filmmaker, and creator and star of the groundbreaking TV series Survivorman. “To reconnect people to nature. To get them to celebrate and protect nature.”
For many years, Survivorman was Stroud’s principle vehicle for conveying that message. Now, he’s combining his love for the environment with his other passion: music. On his fifth full-length album, Bittern Lake, the Canadian singer- songwriter issues an urgent call for environmental preservation with a collection of powerful original songs and classic covers, produced by Mike Clink (Guns ’N Roses, Beth Hart, Metallica).
Recorded at his home in Huntsville, Ontario, on the shore of its namesake lake, Bittern Lake represents Stroud’s favorite way of making music: “live off the floor, no overdubs, everybody in one room, all at one time. The musicians I bring along, they just fall in love with the process.” Those musicians on Bittern Lake include members of Stroud’s longtime backing band, the Campfire Kings, as well as singer-songwriters Oh Susanna and Justin Rutledge, ace session drummer Tony Braunagel (Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal) and Cuban-Canadian guitar player Elmer Ferrer.
Bittern Lake announces its subject matter with a pair of gritty covers. “Death in the Wilderness,” a little-known track by renowned guitarist and songwriter J.J. Cale (author of Eric Clapton’s classics “Cocaine” and “After Midnight”), mourns the loss of the Earth’s last wild spaces over a smoldering blues-rock groove with hard-hitting lyrics: “God save this planet now/We’ve got to help somehow/We’ve let it happen way too long.” Following that comes one of the album’s biggest surprises: a version of Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” that strips away the original’s catchy chorus and sunny acoustic guitars in favor of a sparse, bluesy arrangement featuring little more than a dusty slide guitar and Stroud’s own scorching harmonica licks. “I even changed the lyrics of the last verse — sacrilege!” Stroud notes. But to his delight (and relief), when he sent Mitchell his version, “She loved it.”