It’s all about the songs. Scot Free Sessions is a collaboration of musicians brought together by Edmonton, Alberta native Scot Robinson to provide a vessel for his songs. The music is Americana straddling blues, folk, gospel and country. The songs on the upcoming debut album "Edmonton Skyline" have been garnering strong accolades. Scot Free Sessions is one of the few artists to be named a six-time finalist in the International Songwriting Competition (ISC). They have the enviable honour of finishing in the top 3 of the "lyrics only" category three years in a row winning it in 2021. The ISC is one of the most prestigious songwriting contests in the world regularly receiving over 20,000 entries each year from over 125 countries. Among the judges for the competition were Tom Waits, Coldplay and Hozier. Further recognition came when Multi-Grammy Award-winning songwriter Rodney Crowell picked “Geoff’s Ghost” as his favourite song at his songwriting workshop in Carmel, California. Other mentors at the workshop were Lisa Loeb and famed lyricist Bernie Taupin.
In addition, Scot Free Sessions was a winner and three-time finalist in the worldwide Unsigned Only Music Competition.
Scot had a good fortune. to workshop the songs with some of the most respected songwriters in the Americana genre. The songs were test run, sliced and diced, kicked around, praised and encouraged by Americana icons such as Hayes Carll, Dan Bern, Mary Gauthier, Butch Hancock, Bonnie Hayes, Joe Henry, Rodney Crowell, Kevin Welch and Ray Wylie Hubbard. A literal master class in songwriting. It was Ray Wylie Hubbard, the Texas outlaw poet who plotted out a path forward. “You got real good stuff, I’ll tell you what you should do. Go back to Edmonton, find some singers and musicians you like and get these songs recorded.” Scot took the advice to heart so that’s what he set out to do, his first stop being Edmonton musician Bobby Cameron. Scot would go see Bobby twice a week and over time brought along 85 songs to work on. The two of them spent hundreds of hours working together in Bobby’s basement studio hence the album name “Edmonton Skyline”. Bobby turned out to be the perfect partner. A talented guitar player and multi-instrumentalist, Bobby toiled the boards for a number of years with English blues legend Long John Baldry. Bobby is highly skilled at the production board and the two were able to gather a group of talented Edmonton artists for the recordings. Dan Shinnan (Boogie Patrol) Andrea House and Samantha King lent their talents on vocals. Among the local musicians is 5-time CCMA bassist of the year Travis Switzer, 5-time CCMA drummer of the year Chad Melchert, as well as guitarist Mark Ladouceur who added a rollicking solo to “ Roll Full of Quarters”. Stuart Mcdougal who got his start with Consort, Alberta’s K.D. Lang provided the boogie piano on “Billy and the Bank”.
Feeling much akin to the Texas roots sound and wanting to get out of the basement, Scot and Bobby travelled to Austin on several occasions to record at MoonHouse Studios operated by Chris Gage, Jerry Jeff Walker’s long-time guitar player. Both Gurf Morlix and Kevin Welch recommended Joel Guzman (Paul Simon, Joe Ely) a magician on accordion and Hammond organ. The actual comment was “the guy is so frigging good, he’s like Miles Davis”. Chris Gage engineered the Austin sessions and brought over bassist David Carrol (Bill Kirchen, Billy Joe Shaver). A trip to Los Angeles and a night of drinking opened the door to the great drummer Kenny Aronoff (John Mellencamp, Bob Dylan). Kenny brought in his versatile John Fogerty bandmate James LoMenzo on bass (Ozzy Osbourne, Slash). Scot spotted someone wearing an “Edmonton Folk Festival” t-shirt at Americanafest in Nashville and it turned out to be Jason Wilber, long-time guitarist for the great John Prine. He ended up playing mandolin on the album. On the same trip, he was introduced to Brady Blade (Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle) who recorded his drum tracks once he was back home in Stockholm, Sweden. Bobby would joke “if Scot went to New Jersey, he’d come back with Bruce Springsteen to play on the album”. Bruce, are you listening?
The songs on “Edmonton Skyline” are influenced by a number of sources. Scot grew up with a father who was a meteorologist in the Canadian Armed Forces, who moonlighted on the side being a disc jockey and running a movie theatre. His father was the projectionist, his mother ran the concession and an 8-year-old Scot and his brother would sweep the aisles after the show. Scot’s father had a large record collection and a love of Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra and George Jones. Scot inherited that love of music and among his many influences are Bob Dylan, Warren Zevon, The Kinks, Paul Kelly and Tom Russell. The early love of movies lead to studying screenwriting under the careful tutelage of a then 88-year-old Stewart Stern who wrote the James Dean classic “Rebel Without A Cause”. While writing these songs he produced several award-winning films, wrote a couple of plays for festivals and acted in several more. Stewart Stern heavily influenced his songwriting and Scot developed a niche for story songs, and mini-movies such as “Big Tiger, Istanbul, Geoff’s Ghost, and Billy and the Bank”. The songs have a strong tie to geography from adventures gathered while travelling to over 70 countries. The songs take a narrative-first approach with a trove of literary touch points.
Bobby grew up in Celtic-inspired Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and brought along a sweep of influences ranging from Bruce Springsteen to Stevie Ray Vaughn. As a teenager, he would hitchhike three hours each way on the weekends into Halifax to play music. Bobby has made four albums under his own moniker drawn in the rock/blues vein. After years on the road and now with a family he turned his primary attention to working in the studio. His musical versatility allowed Scot Free Sessions to touch on several genres on “Edmonton Skyline” and the album graces a spectrum of influences from the folk, blues, gospel and country worlds.
All of the songs started out as acoustic demos such as “Burn Bright” the last track on the album which showcases just two voices and a guitar. The original idea was always to have a number of singers each singing a different song. As Scot and Bobby spent hundreds of hours together in the studio working on the songs, Bobby’s voice became the songs. It seemed like a shame to go seek other vocalists when they had already had the songs right where they needed to be. They did reach out to powerhouse vocalists Dan Shinnan (the top goalie in the local musician’s hockey league) and Samantha King (who for several years sang the anthems at Edmonton Oiler’s home games ) for a no holds barred duet on “Everything’s Right (Till It’s Not)”. John Campbelljohn from his base in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia added the slide guitar to the track.
Fred Eaglesmith introduced Scot to Scott Merritt (Matt Anderson, Stephen Fearing) who mixed some of the early tracks at his studio (The Cottage) in Guelph, Ontario. Everything then came back to Texas Hill Country where the majority of the tracks were mixed by Grammy-nominee Chris Bell (Don Henley, Kenny Wayne Shepherd). Chris connected Scot to South African native Gavin Lurssen who mastered the music for the “Game of Thrones” series as well as the likes of Leonard Cohen. Gavin completed the journey mastering the tracks at his studio in Burbank, California.
The journey to getting this album done was not an easy one nor a simple one. Over time it gained momentum and that momentum was based on the strength of the songs. After all, it was always about the songs. Kevin Welch at the start said, “I’m not sure if I ever heard of anybody quite going this route to make a CD. But hell, why not”. Ray Wylie Hubbard, who is the ultimate example of taking control of one’s own destiny said “Make it happen. Get it done!!”.
So here it is. “Scot Free Sessions” and the album “Edmonton Skyline”. Have a listen and turn it up a bit!