Al Tuck always seems to be shrouded in a cloud of mystery. For some time the 45-year-old songwriter from P.E.I has been the curious subject of inspection among Eastern Canadian musicians, music journalists and those who’ve happened on one of his performances, all of whom are keenly aware of his musical aptitude but equally perplexed by his ambiguity.
Tuck’s success story isn’t marked with international tours, awards or even reasonable publicity. If it doesn’t eventually manifest in any of these, it’s certain to live on through the legendary status he has earned as a songwriter and cult icon in Canadian music.
Counted among his biggest fans and those he has influenced are the likes of Joel Plaskett, Buck 65, Amelia Curran and Erin Costello, among others.
It was during Halifax’s pop explosion of the early ’90s that Tuck appeared to be headed places. In 1994 he released his first two albums, “Arhoolie” and “Brave Last Days,” under Halifax supergroup Sloan’s independent label Murderecords. But it wasn’t until 2001 that he followed up with his third album, “New High Road of Song.”
“I had a different reason for every one of those years why I didn’t get anything out, and I forget what they all were, but time just seemed to go by,” Tuck recalls over the phone from his home in Hunter River, P.E.I.
“I became more like your weekly gigs kind of musician and it was a bit of a carnival sometimes.”
His lyrically driven folk songs also could not compete at a time when garage band pop-rock was dominating the airwaves, so Tuck found himself “a bit of an anomaly,” he says.
But his musical style wasn’t the only thing working against him. He had also earned a reputation as being difficult to work with, a standing that may have affected his ability to stay at the forefront of the Halifax scene as the turn of the century ushered in a resurgence and appreciation of folk music.
His ambition to have a full-time band, with which he was “Al Tuck and No Action,” was overcome by the consequences of his reputation and his being “stuck in a day job,” he says.
“I had a different reason for every one of those years why I didn’t get anything out, and I forget what they all were, but time just seemed to go by.” - Al Tuck
“But that seems like a different time to me. The 2000s have been more about getting around to playing. I don’t have a day job … so I drifted around more like Townes Van Zandt used to, without success, but maybe enough of a following to get along, barely,” he says.
Like a road-weary troubadour, Tuck made a dozen or so trips to Newfoundland over the past two years, a habit he says he’s getting away from now that he has settled back in P.E.I. to be close to his five-year-old daughter Isabel, who spends half her time with her mother (Tuck’s former partner) songwriter Catherine MacLellan.
Among the many indicators that he’s at a potential crossroads in his life and music career is “Every Little Thing,” a song for his daughter from his latest effort, 2009’s “Food For The Moon.” It’s a comforting ballad featuring a melodic interplay of piano, violin and mandolin and a chorus that repeats, “It’s all about Isabel … Is Isabel alright?”
The album’s title track pays homage to an important person in his life, his former father-in-law and Juno Award-winning songwriter, the late Gene MacLellan.
“Gene, where is your monument?” he sings. “I say someone build one and they do it soon.”
Tuck’s reflective tone and sense of humour in discussing the past indicates that maybe he’s somewhere in the present and looking up and forward to greener pastures.
Asked if he’s excited about getting his new music out, Tuck replies, “I’ve always been optimistic that way. Maybe some things you expect to come together never do often enough. But I never thought that the sky was anything but the limit.” Al Tuck will be joined by some local friends and musicians when he performs at The Rose & Thistle on Water Street June 6 and Tuesday, June 7 at The Grapevine.