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The Vancouver Sun – Joel Plaskett is back on the open road

By Graeme McRanor

Joel Plaskett has been described as a hard-touring artist. He’s on the road — a lot. So it’s fitting that, when he answers his cellphone, he’s already on the move.

He’s late for an appointment, so there’s some huffing and puffing as he hoofs it to his car, where he switches to speakerphone to avoid any hand-held finger-wagging from Nova Scotia’s finest.

“It’s tough,” he says of life on the road. “I kind of pick my battles now. I don’t just go out willy-nilly anymore. I don’t go out if it looks like there’s a chance that the shows are going to suck.”

The award-winning singer — who performs solo, with his band the Emergency, and is even reuniting with his old band Thrush Hermit for a series of one-off shows in the spring — didn’t have to think too hard about trekking across country recently to open for American singer-songwriter Steve Earle as part of Vancouver’s Cultural Olympiad on Jan 23.

“They said, ‘Do you want to play with Steve Earle in the Cultural Olympiad?’ and I said, ‘Uh, yeah.’

“I have to admit, though, that I don’t know his records. I saw him play at the Edmonton Folk Festival this past summer, and I gotta say, I also really enjoyed him on (HBO’s) The Wire.”

But Plaskett shares some similarities with the man known as “the hard-core troubadour.”

Both are genre-bending artists in their own right, and both are respected for their songwriting and storytelling abilities, as well as a shared habit of marching to the beat of their own music.

Last year, for example, the prolific Plaskett released a triple album that featured 27 songs.

“There was a certain degree of foolishness and self-indulgence there,” he says. “But you gotta give people something to talk about. A triple record isn’t exactly an economical way to release music, but then, what is?

“I did it because I could, basically.”

That album, aptly titled Three, was shortlisted for a 2009 Polaris Prize (his self-described concept album Ashtray Rock was also shortlisted in 2007).

Over the years, he’s been nominated for five Junos (including one with Thrush Hermit), not the least of which was 2006 and 2008 nods for songwriter of the year, where his competition included The Arcade Fire, Feist and legendary songwriter Neil Young.

“The songwriter nominations were real big for me,” he says. “It’s funny, I’ve been really lucky. I’ve flown under the radar

in many respects, but I’ve also surfaced enough to satisfy my ego and sense of self-worth. It doesn’t hinge on those nominations by any stretch, but at the same time, it’s pretty encouraging to be included amongst people like that. It’s a huge honour.”

Joel Plaskett will be opening for the Barenaked Ladies on his upcoming tour.