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McKowen, Krische collab to commemorate haunting roadside ruin

Music project commemorates the Guyitt house, colloquially known as Canada's most photographed house
Cover art.

2023 witnessed the demise of the Talbot Line's Guyitt house, otherwise known as Canada's most photographed house. Out of disappointment artistic impulse arises: famed Stratford illustrator Scott McKowen and musician John Krische have collaborated to commemorate the haunting roadside ruin in a music CD entitled Old Hay for the Horses.

Writing on his webpage, Krische notes, "Anyone who drove the Talbot Line west of Clearville knew the Guyitt house, if not by name, certainly by its haunted presence on the highway. For years we've driven the highway, past the field-stone houses, the farms, the churches and historic graveyards, the lake views and the beaches, but it was the ruined house on the side of the road that captivated us most. Early on in our discovery of the house a song came to me which imagined a story to explain how the house came to be neglected and in its ruined state. More songs followed, inspired in large part by roaming that part of the world, and always I imagined the house as the image that would define the song collection. And without question I knew the artist I wanted to render the house in illustration. Scott McKowen is a celebrated artist with an astonishing body of work. I knew his scratchboard style would be perfect for rendering the Guyitt house, and as fortune would have it, Scott was captivated by the photographs we showed him. After several pencil sketches by Scott and numerous conversations a final concept was agreed upon and shortly - after years of me imagining how he might represent the house in his unmistakable style - the cover art landed and spoke fully to my expectations and imaginings."

"As for the music, my plan was to take my songs to Nashville to record them with the legendary Nashville studio sidemen, the "A-list" players who appear on so many of the records I'd grown up with. These players are a breed apart - and  though outside of the cloistered world of recording studios they are largely unsung and unknown - within the world of musicians they are Olympian in stature. And because I was going to Nashville, I wanted to take along songs that were at least "country-inspired" and to be sure, songs that told a story. I set out to write simple songs with big hooks. I wanted the songs to be accessible to any age of listener and in good part I think I've succeeded in that. Where the songs, with their throw-back sound, might have a more immediate appeal to the more veteran of listeners, younger listeners are discovering this stuff now too. The studio players have imparted a tremendous energy to the tracks and everyone gets that.

"Likewise, people are drawn to the album image - it's exquisite - and as often as not they know on sight that this is Scott's work. To be sure, his style is all his own - and widely known around these parts owing to years of Scott having provided the imagery for the seasons and shows of the Stratford Festival, the Grand Theatre in London and the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. I've had Scott's theatre posters on my walls for decades, and in the greater world they are coveted artefacts now. What people may not know is that Scott is truly a world-beating illustrator, having done book covers for Neil Gaiman and Gregory Maguire, to name just two, has had illustrations in The NewYorker magazine, and attracted the attention of the doyen of American illustration, Milton Glaser, who called Scott, "One of the great illustrators of our time."

"I think the one thing I've done absolutely right on this project is to involve the best artists, bar none, to bring it about, with Scott providing the central artwork and the superlative Nashville sidemen on the sound. I enlisted a couple musical friends, James Miller and Dave Matheson (Moxy Fruvous) to add their fabulous voices to the mix. We're streaming the music in all the usual places, but I'm hoping people will think to get their hands on the "real thing”, the CD, because it's a  great little package. Plans for a vinyl release are in the works and remember, you can't get that image anywhere but here. Just ask Bob at Fanfare Books, downtown on Ontario St.”