Born By The Radio
More than 25 years and 12 studio albums into his career, Canadian roots singer-songwriter Mike Plume feels he’s got something intrinsically right with his newest effort, Born By The Radio.
Plume made his initial mark on Canada’s vast musical landscape in the 90’s, routinely playing more than 200 shows a year for the better part of two decades. He’s toured every corner of North America, sharing the stage with the likes of Blue Rodeo, Corb Lund, Steve Earle, John Hiatt, and The Mavericks, and most recently with Lindi Ortega.
However, the past five years of Plume’s career have proven to be a renaissance of sorts for the long-running song and dance man.
When Canadian country and folk singer Stompin’ Tom Connors passed away in early 2013, Plume’s heartfelt, and somewhat impromptu, tribute to the legendary songwriter, “So Long Stompin’ Tom,” went viral, and Plume was invited to perform the song at Stompin’ Tom’s memorial in Peterborough, Ontario.
Later that same year, Plume released Red and White Blues, his first record since 2009’s 8:30 Newfoundland, which spawned the Top 20 hit, “This Is Our Home (8:30 Newfoundland),” which also received heavy airplay during the 2010 Winter Olympics held in Vancouver, B.C.
“I’m still convinced that song will be used in a Molson Canadian commercial,” Plume says.
“So Long Stompin’ Tom” had, somewhat unwittingly, returned Plume to the national spotlight, yet he didn’t quite feel compelled to revel in the moment like he could have.
“Leading up to 2013, I had been laying relatively low,” Plume says. “But the release of Red and White Blues and the holiday album were intended to be low key. The big thrust behind those releases was because I wanted to have something current to sell at shows. I didn’t hire a publicist or worry about a radio tracker, primarily because I wasn’t interested in playing the game anymore.”
These revelations somewhat beg the question of precisely what switch flipped in the singer-songwriter to convince him to go whole hog into the release of Born By The Radio. It turns out there was a confluence of factors at work.
“I’ve maintained a steady roster of shows after all these years, and I was fine with that, but last summer, after seeing me somewhat flounder at various jobs I intended to land to stay close to home, my wife and daughter flat out told me, ‘You need to be on the road. It’s what you’re good at, and you can’t do anything else,’” Plume says with a laugh. “It was their nudging and urging that ultimately convinced me to take another kick at it.”
Also helping push Plume forward was the fact he had assembled a notoriously strong collection of songs. While Red and White Blues was a loose and fun return to form for the songwriter, Born By The Radio could be Plume’s Born To Run, a subtle yet powerful artistic re-awakening that sees him delivering some of the strongest material of his 25-plus year career.
“Red and White Blues came together over the course of a couple of weeks, which is absolutely the reason why it has such a loose feel to it. The making of Born By The Radio was spread out over the course of six months. We took our time, and I think that’s evident.”
Despite maintaining he had zero intention of writing radio-friendly hits, Plume has them in spades throughout Born By The Radio’s nine tracks.
Kicking off with “My Old Friend,” Plume looks back on the first half-century of his life and the friendships that survive distance and the inevitable passing of time, while “Mama’s Rolling Stone,” co-written with Canadian country star Tim Hicks, reflects on how years tend to accelerate past parents as their children rely upon them less and less.
“I think it’s a hit and I’d love to see it be a hit,” Plume says, referring to “Mama’s Rolling Stone.” “The same could be said for ‘Waste A Kiss On Me.’ which I wrote with Trevor Rosen of [American country band] Old Dominion.”
Another song “Western Wind,” was nothing more than a title that Plume carried for the better part of 12 years before actually writing the song. “The song title came from when we were rehearsing at Levon Helm’s place in Woodstock, NY back in May of 2000. One day while on a break, I was outside smoking a cigarette and Levon came out of his house and sat down beside me and said, ‘I sure can hear that western wind in y’all’s music…’ I almost fell over. I should have put that on a poster somewhere.”
Clocking in at under 35 minutes, and with some of the strongest, most compelling material of his career, Born By The Radio is proof positive that Plume is only getting better with age. While some may question the viability of the album in a singles-driven market, this collection proves the album format, like Plume himself, is as relevant as ever. “The truth is, I feel strongly about this album as a whole. It’s a good clutch of songs, and I think it’s a fantastic time to be in the music business.”