You can go ahead and just dance to the music of George Canyon, if that's what you want. He's a country neo-traditionalist par excellence, producing music situated somewhere between the bright and studio-tooled Nashville ideal and something a little older, with a voice that can soar with emotion or linger in a heavy bottom-end that feels like a kick in the chest from a faith healer. It's instant.
When you see the man, with piercing eyes that hang above his square jaw, the star appeal becomes even more obvious, and you remember all those achievements – the string of hits, a shelf-full of Junos and Canadian Country Music Awards, not to mention his rocket-ride to American fame on Nashville Star 2 in 2004, and the subsequent blockbuster albums One Good Friend, and Somebody Wrote Love.
But there's more to Canyon; a gravity evident in songs like 2007's "I Want You To Live", and which leaps from the title song of Canyon's newest album, What I Do.
"If you were to pick a theme for any of my albums," he says, "it's always gonna be somewhat to do with my family, somewhat to do with moral issues, maybe miracles, and faith for sure. My faith plays a very important part in my life. If it wasn't for that I'd probably be long gone. Who knows where?"
"What I Do" will resonate with anybody who's ever raised a kid, since it describes with diamond precision the gentle act of chaperoning a child through life.
Says Canyon, "My son said to me, 'Dad, why don't you have any songs about me on your albums?' And he'd just turned 10. And I said, 'You know what buddy, you're right." So I wrote two songs about him on this album."
"Just Like You" is the first single from What I Do and the other half of Canyon's Daddy Duology. In contrast to "What I Do", the Calgary-resident attacks the subject from a lighter if no less true perspective on "Just Like You", examining his longing for childhood-lost with hopped-up fiddles and banjos, set against a thumping backbeat.
"Kale knows it's a true song," says Canyon, with a soft chuckle. "When we heard it on the radio for the first time, he sat there with a big grin on his face, because he knew it was his. And I'll tell you, as a Dad, that's a pretty darn cool feeling."
Adds the singer, "As far as songs go, it's one of my favourites, because it says exactly the truth. It says what most dads think, for sure."
Canyon co-wrote "Just Like You" with two other fathers, Gary Harrison and What I Do co-producer Richard Marx. The album marks Canyon's first collaboration with the Chicago-born hitmaker. He hopes it isn't the last.
" I just bow down," he sighs. "He's just an unbelievable man, all the way around… I can't put it into words." Canyon is no studio neophyte, either. He took on the producing, engineering, and mixing of his 2007 collection of covers, Classics. "Elbows deep," is how he describes the process, but Canyon doesn't hesitate to credit Marx with teaching him a thing or three. "It was the first time in my career I actually just stood back and let somebody else take the reigns completely," he says. "And I sat in the wagon."
Canyon's praise is breathless for all of his collaborators on What I Do – and there are some surprising names that turn up in the mix. Nickelback, anyone?
"Chad Kroeger is a crazy talented guy that people pigeonhole strictly into rock 'n' roll music," dishes Canyon, about his production and writing partner – along with Joey Moi – for two tracks on What I Do. "But he's a huge country music fan and a great writer… It would be a dream come true to continue working with Richard, Chad, and Joey."
Then there's Chuck Cannon, the man who wrote Toby Keith's "How Do You Like Me Now", and who gave Canyon the frivolous-on-the-surface "If I Was Jesus".
"He was supposed to be a pastor," Canyon reveals. "He's the son of a son of a son of a Pastor. Three generations, but he decided to be a songwriter." Canyon notes that the two professions aren't entirely unrelated.
"The first time I heard the song," he laughs, "I was like, 'Wow, that's one way of putting it!' I know lots of people these days are turned off religion because it was shoved down their throat when they were a kid, and what that song does for me, it says, 'This isn't about belonging to a church, this isn't about any of that, this is about a one-on-one relationship with Jesus, with the Lord."
Softly, he adds, "Maybe this will bring them back. Maybe this'll open a door that might have been shut."
Canyon's faith and moral strength can be seen in his extra-curricular activities, whether it's his work on behalf of Juvenile Diabetes (he was stricken at 14). or his well-known support of Canada's Armed Forces. After a handful of visits to Kandahar, Canyon was made an honorary Colonel, by Canadian Defence minister Peter MacKay and CDS, Gen.Hillier. One of the most striking tracks on What I Do, a piano-led weeper of a duet with Crystal Shawanda called "Back In Your Arms", forms a companion piece to "I Want You to Live", in that addresses once again the human stories behind the conflict. As well to spread awareness of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Canyon embarked on The Sky's Not The Limit campaign this year, where he piloted his own plane across the country making pit stops to do private talks and concerts for children with type 1 diabetes and their families.
Canyon sings about things that are bigger than him, and the humility is flattering. As he says, "In country music, sincerity is everything," which might be why the likeable 38 year-old from Nova Scotia is a rapidly ascending star on both sides of the border.
He tells a good story, about being at the Grand Ole Opry, and hanging with Porter Wagoner and Little Jimmy Dickens, who called him 'Canada', and then told dirty jokes.
"You look at a lot of things in life, and you wonder, 'Gosh, I wonder what it's like on the other side of that fence,' and you imagine things and you dream things up. But the other side of the fence is like the side you're on. They're normal people, they get dressed in the morning, they have the same issues – it was a bit of an eye-opener."
The funny thing is, Canada's rising Country superstar speaks from the other side of the fence himself these days, whether he knows it or not.
George continues to tour throughout the year to support "What I Do".