Hank Karr’s music is a part of the Yukon landscape.
It’s only natural that he would present his music on a DVD, where it can be accompanied by images of the landscape and the Yukon culture that he sings about.
Following his DVD, Hank Karr’s Book of Yukon Memories, Karr has released Long Gone to the Yukon, a mix of songs of the Yukon’s Gold Rush history and culture, with songs about the natural beauty of the land.
Matching these themes are videos, largely shot by Les McLaughlin, showing Karr revelling in every cliché of Yukon life.
In the video for the title track, originally by Stompin’ Tom Connors, Karr drives a 1950 Fargo pickup truck, complete with cracked windshield, up the Klondike Highway to Dawson City, where he pans for gold and plays the slots at Diamond Tooth Gertie’s.
These experiences can be appreciated by Yukoner and tourist alike.
The Yukon’s landscape is also highlighted. Beauty of the North, a gentle ballad by Ed Isaac and Jake Doell, is accompanied by footage of Karr playing his guitar on the Yukon River as a canoeist paddles past.
The video, from Al Oster’s Blow Northwind Blow, shows a man struggling in the cold and snow in a harsh winter scene, filmed by Colleen and Larry McLaughlin.
Among the other videos is a gem from US Library of Congress: Thomas Edison’s 1897 footage of the Klondike Gold Rush, set to North to Alaska. Karr’s voice of the song captures the enthusiasm and determination of these miners, as can be seen from Edison’s film.
Rounding out the videos are three performances shot in the auditorium of the Pioneer RV Park, featuring Karr and Company, Tom Barnaby, Merv Bales and Wayne Smyth.
While these songs feature some of Karr and Company’s best music — in particular, Danny Dill’s Partners — the videos are unfortunately lip synced. One of these “performances” features a piano solo but no piano player.
What the DVD needs is a truly live performance by Karr and Company, so we can see him in action, interacting with his audience, as the much-beloved performer he is.
As a singer, Karr is best known as an interpreter of Al Oster’s songs of the Yukon’s Klondike heritage. This DVD features five songs written by Oster, including 918 Miles, an ode to the Alaska Highway, while it was still a harsh, gravel road.
This song also features a standout performance by Karr and Company.
Karr has a great voice, and his love of the material he’s chosen is obvious. With his deep, expressive voice, he captures the essence of these songs in a classic country style that brings to mind Johnny Cash and Johnny Horton.
Just as Cash, in his American Recordings, lent his voice and his style beyond traditional country, recording songs by Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden, it would be wonderful for Karr to do something similar. Perhaps he could sing some songs of the contemporary Yukon experience, such as Manfred Janssen’s High Wind or Kim Barlow’s songs of Keno City.
In the meantime, Karr rounds out the DVD with a poetic duet with Robert Service, joining him in reciting “The Spell of the Yukon.”
Karr shows why he, like so many of us, have also fallen under the Yukon’s spell.
Standout Tracks: North to Alaska and 918 Miles