‘It was kind of a surreal moment to tell you the truth, because I never really put much of a label onto myself,” Quinton Blair reflects over the phone. “I’m a country music fan. I play country music; that’s what I do. But I listen to mainstream country and go, ‘I don’t really fit in here,’ so then I swing over and try to listen to some good folk music and go, ‘Well, I don’t fit in here either.’ It’s kind of hard for me to put a stamp onto what I do. Then I won that award, and I’m like, ‘Oh, I guess that’s what I am.”
Blair, the singer-songwriter from southern Manitoba, is mulling over his 2015 win as Roots Artist of the year from the Manitoba Country Music Association, in which he was selected from a list of 17 “high-calibre” nominees including the Bros Landreth, Del Barber, Doc Walker and Sierra Noble.
“I’ve developed a reputation as a storyteller,” he says of his roots artist classification. “I guess I’m just longwinded, is what it comes down to, so I think that fits more into that roots category.”
Up until that point, Blair was unsure where his music existed for the general public, as he often melded elements of country and folk together, but his sound has finally found stable ground with that nomination and win. It’s a classification Blair is still coming to terms with—he was told by country artists to drop the roots label, because they believe he won’t make it as a country artist having “roots” pinned to his music—but he’s acquired a laissez-faire attitude towards it by enjoying the success of playing both country and folk festival gigs.
“I just play real country music, and I consider myself a folk singer,” he explains. “I go out there and try to see what’s happening around me, and I write songs about that. It’s not supposed to have an answer, it’s just supposed to have people talk about it.”
Fresh off his win is a new EP, Cash Crop, which features four tracks that capture Blair’s musical style of heartland roots, soul and country-folk narrative bolstered by a prairie-based band including Grant Siemens (guitarist, Corb Lund’s band), Ryan Voth (drummer, the Bros Landreth), William “Bill” J Western (steel guitarist, Del Barber) and Kevin Torgalson (bass, Buffy Sainte-Marie).
Connecting the EP’s tracks is a strong agricultural theme, which Blair credits to living in rural Manitoba, maintaining a small hobby farm and having friends in the agriculture industry.
“Cash Crop talks about mineral extraction and huge tracks of farm land in Saskatchewan being sold off to the highest bidder, oil money and how that’s changed society in Western Canada,” he says. “It’s not designed to state what I think is the correct answer. It’s just these are all issues that surround agriculture.”
The track “Following Him Around”—which was co-written with Del Barber and Blake Berglund—narrates the tale of generational farming through a young man who’s been passed down the responsibility of the family farm and is struggling making ends meet. The track’s gaining popularity, and Blair admits he’s surprised by its success.
“I thought ‘300,000 KM’ was going to be the big song. But, ‘Following Him Around’ is certainly getting all the airplay right now. It’s fresh, it’s uptempo, and the chorus is really hooky,” he says. “I don’t set out to write a hit song. I’m just focused on the content of the song rather than what’s going to get people to crank it up in their truck.”
Sat, May 14 (7:30 pm)
The Tavern House Concert Series, $15
firstname.lastname@example.org for tickets