Today Western folklorist and songwriter Hal Cannon announces his first solo album release in over a decade, sharing the single “Thirty-Six Miles”. This gentle gothic folk song, like a wide angle shot that opens a grand western epic film, scans a vast sky and red desert cliffs. Yet, inevitably the camera zooms in to the intimacy of life in this mythic place, the American southwest.
Cannon’s life work has been all about documenting and exploring the cultural and natural landscape of this place. But the song cycle, “Nothin’ Lastin’,” is also personal and intimate. The songs, a cry of impermanence and the quest to find solid ground.
“Thirty-Six Miles,” is the first song on the album. Simply, those thirty-six miles mark the distance between Gallup, New Mexico and the ancient pueblo of the Zuni people. On a cultural level the two places are a world apart but are knotted together in a myriad of ways. On a personal level, the song lauds the beauty of Native spiritual life but despairs at always being an outsider, merely a respectful guest.
Cannon has been going to Zuni for nearly forty years. In the early-2000s, he toured in a play produced in collaboration between the Zuni-language theater Idiwanan An Chawe, and the Roadside Theater of Virginia. On this tour to the Smithsonian Institution his friendship with Zuni artist and actor Edward Wemytewa deepened. This song is dedicated to both Edward, and to his son, Ethan, who lost his life on the highway between Zuni and Gallup. An event that is referenced within the song’s verses.
Cannon’s songwriting often exists in a timeless space; simultaneously capable of paying tribute to the past, while also observing the present, and considering the future. In “Thirty-Six Miles” we get a vivid example of this approach as Cannon alternates verses that hint at past tragedy with the repeating refrain “Shalako”. That being the name of an annual Zuni ceremony that gives thanks for the harvest and blesses new homes in the community. With its aura of hushed reverence and gently picked banjo patterns, “Thirty-Six Miles'' eases us into a boundless world that is captured amongst the thirteen tracks on the Nothin’ Lastin’ album. Despite Cannon’s lengthy resumé as a member of the Deseret String Band, Red Rock Rondo, 3hattrio, and as a solo performer, the topical reach of Nothin’ Lastin’ makes it his most expansive project yet. “Years Go Down” offers a touching reflection on seasoned love, the title-track brings a sense of peace to impermanence, “Our Fathers” explores the motivations of Cannon’s ancestors' journey to Utah, and “Silver Dove” offers a brooding reflection on religion and hope.
“Thirty-Six Miles'' is accompanied by an immersive 360° video shot in Skull Valley on Utah’s west desert. This video features Cannon singing the song as he vainly attempts to hitchhike on a lonely road, beneath an endless sky. With its single-camera positioning, the video invites the viewer to stop and spend some time exploring the striking landscape.
Hal Cannon writes his songs at the intersection of the Mojave Desert, Great Basin and Colorado Plateau in southern Utah, on the edge of Zion National Park. His music is intrinsically linked to this landscape and its history; at times, starkly simple and honest, at other times vibrantly colorful in its arrangements and lyrical imagery.
Cannon is best-known for his work touring and recording with 3hattrio. Together for a decade, the group has six highly-acclaimed albums to their credit and have toured extensively, particularly in Europe, where they were named best band of 2018 in the annual AmericanaUK Readers’ Poll. They have had hit performances at the prestigious Celtic Connections, Tønder Festival and the Gothenburg Culture Festival. The music of 3hattrio has been lauded by media tastemakers including; American Songwriter, Magnet, No Depression, Relix and many more.
Beyond his work as a musician, Cannon has served as the founding director of the Western Folklife Center and its annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, produced scores of cultural features for NPR, and has been researching and performing pioneer music since the early 1970’s.
“I’ve been a folklorist, an explorer, all of my life. With “Nothin’ Lastin,” I bare my soul, a territory balancing near the precipice. I only ask you listen to my songs with an open heart.” Hal Cannon