The Canadian murder ballads of singer-songwriter Jon Brooks

By Justin Skinner 

With past albums delving into such heady topics as poverty in the inner city and war stories, it may not seem surprising that downtown-based singer-songwriter Jon Brooks’ newest work contains more humour than his past endeavours. What is surprising is that the humour is wrapped in another dark genre – Canadian murder ballads. 

Brooks’s latest album, The Smiling & Beautiful Countryside, offers social commentary while avoiding heavy-handedness or moralizing. 

“I wanted to basically do an album of songs that interested me thematically and sonically instead of going on the fool’s errand of writing songs that I think will get me airplay on CBC radio,” he said. 

Despite its often-dark subject matter, Brooks said he aims to write songs that are “spiritually uplifting and politically relevant.” 

The Smiling & Beautiful Countryside ranges from comic hyperbole to the stark and horrifying acknowledgment of missing First Nations women in Canada. Still, Brooks acknowledges there are certain challenges faced by some he himself has never had to deal with. 

“It doesn’t help that I’m a fat, white guy in my 40s,” he said. 

The Smiling & Beautiful Countryside focuses on two types of killers – the human and the corporate. As with Brooks’ other works, the theme provides an undercurrent throughout the album. While the singer/songwriter said he does not set out to create concept albums, his works naturally tend toward having overarching themes. 

“It starts naturally, but then I wind up approaching it almost like a collection of short stories,” he said. “I always think a song’s more impotent on its own than it is when it’s part of looking at the full spectrum of an idea.” 

Brooks’ music career was interrupted when he stepped away to work on more lucrative endeavours and returned to university to get a degree. During that time, he worked as an usher at the Princess of Wales Theatre, a bike courier and a beer brewer for Steam Whistle among other gigs. 

“It wasn’t until I married a woman with money who encouraged me to get back into it that I decided I could pursue this as a career,” he said. 

While many artists love playing to a hometown crowd, Brooks has mixed feelings about his upcoming album release show at Hugh’s Room, where he hopes to see more than just familiar faces in the crowd when he performs early next month. 

While he appreciates the support, he wants to feel his music is appreciated and not that people are coming out to catch his show simply because they know him and want to show support. 

“There’s nothing more dreary than doing this for 10 years, looking out and seeing your cousin in the crowd,” he said. 

Brooks will play Hugh’s Room, 2261 Dundas St. West, on Wednesday, April 8. 

For tickets, or for listen to Brooks’ work, visit 

March, 2015