Dale Nikkel is not your stereotypical Canadian, and yet he is. Canadians are pretty much accepted as nice people, nicer than most anyway, and Nikkel fits the profile. He loves life, loves love and takes things seriously, to a point. He loves to laugh, too (I am conjecturing here, having never met the man), humor sneaking through his songs at the oddest times.
He sings like a soft-edged Brett Dennen, voice directed inward as is subject matter. That subject matter, in fact, is a large part of Nikkel's charm: The simple world of a growing child (Big World, Small Boy), the struggle with Faith (Option A and Lord, Is It the Beer?), the invaluable aspect of time (Grandfather's Clock), the precious intertwining of love and patience (Take the Time You Need). He equates stress of modern life to a road trip with The Speed of Sound and warns of outside influences with Listen To the Voices. He does it all somewhat effortlessly, giving the impression that each song magically appeared in final form and not bothering you with the intense struggle for the emotions and words which seldom come easy.
No, Nikkel's songs are not emotion-laden, though they are emotion based. It is not in him to write angst-ridden tomes of life stripped bare. His view is more akin to that of the second wave of modern era folksingers—Gordon Lightfoot and John Denver and the like—who instead of concentrating on the negative seemed to find a positive side. Others see the Grim Reaper. Nikkel sees a need to appreciate time left. In case you haven't noticed, life is short. In a complicated world, it's that simple.
Two albums preceded Second Hand: Still Learning Tricks (2002) and 2006's Passages. While I have not heard the former, I became well-acquainted with Passages while writing a review of it for FAME (here). There is a growth pattern from that to this, songwriting-wise, but Nikkel and Steve Abma, partners in crime, were smart enough to leave production values alone. Production on Passages, simple as it was, fit the music to a T and they obviously worked hard to make sure it did here, also. The music flows so smoothly from track to track that you hardly realize when background is just acoustic guitar and when it is full band. And clean? The sound is crystal clear.
Dale Nikkel is of course more than just Canadian. Still, when I listen to him, I can't help but think of one-liners. Like, Dale Nikkel is so clean, soap comes to him for a bath. When the definition for Canadian was originated, they wanted to use Dale Nikkel as posterboy but he was too nice, eh? I would include a ba-dump here, but that might conjure up a strip club and I guarantee you that not one of Nikkel's songs would ever be used in one. They wanted to stamp this album 'G', but it didn't qualify—the subject matter wasn't dirty enough.
I would go on, but I think you get the drift, which is that Dale Nikkel is a musician comparable to that comedian who who not only won't but doesn't need to revert to the dark side. His songs stand on their own as slices of life as seen through his eyes and, if you're lucky to have escaped certain demons, yours as well. It is a small breath of fresh air in a polluted world. Let's face it, if we all had his vision, this world would be a better place, guaranteed.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
Website design by David N. Pyles