SO THE STORY GOES
The Lucky Ones are a Yukon band with members contributing from Old Crow to Carcross, Whitehorse to Dawson City, and Mayo. They grew up listening to the music of their parents,
and their parents' parents before them.
The Lucky Ones' unique brand of authentic country-roots music imparts traditional arrangements with a contemporary disposition, reminiscent of old-time dances in hotel taverns and barrooms,
barns, kitchens and saloons.
THE LUCKY ONES SELF-TITLED
Appropriately, The Lucky Ones’ self-titled debut album kicks off with a song called “Fool’s Gold,” which could have be written a century ago when men came north to seek their fortunes. At the same time, its message reflects every boom-and-bust era that has come since, while providing the finest example of the group’s collective songwriting approach.
Half of the band first got together in Dawson City as the Klondike Sons, playing three nights a week at the Midnight Sun Hotel, and later the infamous Westminster Hotel (aka The Pit). After moving from Dawson to Whitehorse, they slowly hand picked other musicians from the area until they were ready to debut as The Lucky Ones—the name inspired by Alistair MacLeod’s novel No Great Mischief—at Whitehorse’s 98 Hotel, filling in regularly for legendary Yukon fiddler Joe Loutchan.
The songs began coming after that, including an ode to their “home away from home,” “Old 98,” “Waiting On A Paycheque,” which Ryan West wrote after a long day of painting houses (and played that night by request in exchange for one on the house), and “Everybody Dance,” JD McCallen’s co-write with his then two-year-old daughter.
That sense of family and community is inherent to the entire Yukon music scene and feeds The Lucky Ones’ creativity. As McCallen says, “The isolation is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, I don’t feel like there's any pressure to compete but on the other there’s not a lot to compete for. In the North, it’s not out of the question to travel six hours for a gig. But it’s such a beautiful place to live and make music; everywhere you look is a goddamn postcard. And stories, there’s certainly no shortage of stories.”
It is indeed those stories that are at the heart of The Lucky Ones, which was recorded at St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Dawson City. That same weekend, they played a Sunday gospel set there, the perfect complement to the album’s “Saturday night” feel, exemplified by the closing number, “Drunken Goodnight.” It’s a song about sometimes having to let your friends make mistakes with their relationships in the hope that they’ll figure it out. However, there are no issues when it comes to the musical bond the members of The Lucky Ones share.
- Jason Schneider
SLOW DANCE, SQUARE DANCE, BARN DANCE
Since releasing their self-titled debut album, The Lucky Ones have quickly come to be regarded as one of Canada’s finest roots music ensembles. Hailing from the Yukon, the group’s sound is built on a foundation of traditional bluegrass and honky tonk, but expressed through the distinctive songwriting of its core members.
The Lucky Ones’ sophomore album Slow Dance, Square Dance, Barn Dance continues to see that sound evolve on nine new original tunes that showcase the band’s wide-ranging musical chops and unique personalities. Recorded over a four-day span at the Anglican Cathedral of the Diocese of Yukon, on the traditional territory of the Ta’an Kwach’an Council and Kwanlin Dün First Nations, Slow Dance, Square Dance, Barn Dance alternately conveys all the atmosphere of an intimate live performance, or a raucous night out on the tiles.
In a group statement, they explain, “The songwriting on this album reflects more of the sound we’ve been leaning towards since making the first one. It’s more grounded and honest. We think that is a draw of this music; no frills, only honest old-time hillbilly music with a Yukon twist.”
As on The Lucky Ones’ debut, nearly all of the songs on Slow Dance, Square Dance, Barn Dance are drawn from real life in the Far North, with a loose storyline connecting them, starting with “Kate And Dan.” In fact, it took McCallen nearly a decade to feel he was properly telling the story of two notorious criminals who met their fate at the end of a rope. “I had the initial inkling for this song when I read about some human remains being found near Minto Park in Dawson City,” he says. “It took about eight years, a handful of revisions and some creative truth telling to get it right.”
From there, “Broken Bow Stomp” imagines the party that would have taken place after the hanging, although the song actually came about after a St. Jean Baptiste Day show in a small Quebec town when Poile leaned into his fiddle enough to actually break his bow. Luckily, he had a spare, but such a rare occurrence prompted him to write the song during the van ride the next day. A central character soon emerges whose exploits provide the context for “Goodbye Train,” “Fifth Of You,” and “Keno City Love Song,” the last a poignant, Kristofferson-esque ballad about how a visit to a place can sometimes lead a person to fall in love with it and stay there for the rest of their life.
Although the group doesn’t go as far as describing Slow Dance, Square Dance, Barn Dance as a concept album on par with Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger, they say their collective creative mind set has become much more focused. “We were a relatively new band when we were recording our first album. Some of the members had never even heard the songs before the session. Since that time, we’ve grown as a group—both in numbers and in musicianship—through touring together, playing shows in the Yukon, and woodshedding new songs as a band. The result is a more refined, cohesive album that really captures our sound.”
At the same time, The Lucky Ones have dedicated Slow Dance, Square Dance, Barn Dance to their friend and mentor Joe Loutchan, aka The Fiddler on the Loose, who passed away in 2021. It was a big blow to the band personally, as Loutchan held court at the famous 98 Hotel in Whitehorse, hosting “Fiddle Night” every Thursday since 1982. In recent years, The Lucky Ones covered for Joe, allowing he and his wife some summer vacation time. Since his passing, the band has fully assumed Loutchan’s residency and have done their best to honour his memory by adding more traditional fiddle tunes to their repertoire.
It’s another shining example of how the tight-knit Yukon music community spans generations, with The Lucky Ones, in many ways, being at the centre of it. The band is fully preparing to return to the road as soon as it’s safe to do so, but until then they’re grateful to be able to play at home and keep nurturing their music through their immediate surroundings.
- Jason Scheider