by Scott Roos
Artist of the year photo by Scott Roos
Fiddlin' Around tour poster by Little Jack Films
It’s coming on Christmas but Saskatoon based fiddling phenom and 2023 NSMZ Artist of the Year Mary Liv has no intention of quitting this crazy Saskatchewan music scene. In fact, she has a multi-date tour planned in support of her recently released Fiddlin’ Around debut full length. The tour will start this Thursday, December 7th at a house concert in Saskatoon. She will have a full band in Saskatoon as many of the musicians that supported her on the album hail from there. The remainder of the tour will mostly be Mary Liv and guitar player Joel Rohs. Banjo-playing, singer-songwriter Jaxon Lalonde, who many might recognize from either The Local Group or Jake Vaadeland and the Sturgeon River Boys, is slated to be providing an opening slot in Prince Albert (December 13th).
It’s been quite an exciting 2023 for Mary Liv as she provided support to many artists via her trusty, dependable work as an accomplished fiddler, to acts like The Local Group and Chris Vasseur. She is a prominent member of bluegrass outfit Five Guys Named Dave, and will always lend a hand when it comes to playing at Old Time dances that she attends. She was also an instructor at the Northern Lights Bluegrass and Old Tyme Music Camp teaching beginner guitar but the icing on the cake for Mary Liv was obviously the release of Fiddlin’ Around which dropped just in the last few weeks.
The album, which has the vibe of a kitchen party amongst friends, perfectly suits Mary Liv’s modus operandi. It’s very informal. There’s a rawness to it which is definitely by design.
“I always loved playing fiddle and it was always way more fun if there were people there to play with you. Over the past few years I've been playing with (the people on the album) so much. I feel like we know each other enough that we can have a really good sound quite easily,” mused Mary Liv in a recent telephone conversation.
The cast of characters featured throughout the record, albeit not all at once, include Aryn Murphy, Joel Rohs, Emma Finch, Jille Shotton, Michael Taylor, Jessica Morelli, Jaxon Lalonde and The Screaming E’s.
“I asked all these people to be on the album and it was like maybe a month out of recording and they were like 'oh that's a lot of tunes' but we got together a few times and everybody was pretty comfortable with the tunes. We meshed pretty well,” Mary Liv explained.
“When I was making (the record) I was really trying to pick tunes that I liked but also tunes that I had found over my fiddle career so far. I've been in a lot of different jam circles so I wanted to showcase the songs that I've heard at the Irish jams that I went to, as well as things that I heard at John Arcand Fiddle Fest and Fiddlyness, and then I wanted to add some of the more bluegrass ones that are a little bit newer to me but I still love them from all my years at bluegrass camp.”
Fiddlin’ Around was recorded at Rec Hall studios in Saskatoon with Joel Rohs (Jake Vaadeland and the Sturgeon River Boys) in the producer's chair.
“I kinda tried to make sure that going into it (Joel Rohs) knew that I wanted it to sound like a jam. I didn't want it to be too polished or too strict.... We recorded it in one room, we were spaced out quite a bit so you could basically have it as a tracked album but everybody played at the same time. So you could fix the bass or fix the guitar if something wasn't quite right but there's still that kitchen party sound.”
Mary LIv took a “student of the game” approach when it came to the songs choices and instrumentation on the album. She listened and researched and came up with a format for Fiddlin’ Around that best worked for her.
“Obviously, as a fiddle player, I've always been listening to fiddle albums but four months out when I was starting to think about the album I was like 'okay I'm going to deep dive.’ So I picked all my favorite mainly canadian artists, a couple of american ones too, but mainly Canadian ones, and I listened to all their albums and was like 'okay, they have this instrumentation on it or they play their tunes this fast or they play them this many times on the album or just different ways they put their tunes together',” Mary Liv continued.
“Then I also started going to a lot more music stores and thrift stores and just looking at album artwork and how they made their CDs look and what they wrote on them and all that sort of stuff so I could get an idea of what I wanted mine to look like.”
The end result is a record well suited to Mary Liv’s style. She’s paying it forward to a certain extent based on the personnel she decided to work with but also glancing back and tipping the cap to an amazing legacy of fiddling left behind by countless great Canadian artists of the past through her song choice and instrumental style. Mary Liv is a teacher, very giving of her time to be sure, a great session musician and support player as well, but is also proving with Fiddlin’ Around and this up and coming tour that she is a force to be reckoned with on the instrument in her own right. She’s earned the street cred. It’s going to be an exciting 2024 seeing her climb more rungs of the Saskatchewan music scene ladder. Congrats Mary Liv on being our 2023 “Artist of the year”.
See poster below for tour dates. He album will be made available on all streaming services on January 1st but is also currently available for download purchase via Bandcamp. Physical copies in the form of CDs are available directly from the artist.