Best known as drummer and co-founder of JUNO Award-winning rock bruisers The Sheepdogs, Sam Corbett conceived of his solo project NUTANA in 2018 while undergoing treatment for testicular cancer. At age 34. While his wife Ashley was pregnant for the first time. Talk about harrowing.
And yet his towering debut album, named for the neighbourhood in Saskatoon where Corbett grew up, isn’t doom and gloom. Far from it. Rather, the 10 dazzling original songs and two captivating covers (Buffy Sainte-Marie, Tame Impala) on NUTANA hit all the retro, loose-limbed, and melodic notes one expects from a Sheepdog, albeit with lyrics that frequently deliver a wallop.
Self-produced, it features a marquee roster of guests including Jim Bowskill (Blue Rodeo) and Chris Mason (The Deep Dark Woods) on “Ave H Blue”—alongside Clayton Linthicum (Kacy and Clayton), Shamus Currie (The Sheepdogs, BROS), and former Sheepdogs guitarist Leot Hanson, among others.
“Ave H Blue is the street I live on. When I was diagnosed in summer 2018, we had to cancel a couple of shows so I could have surgery,” Corbett says candidly. “I had some follow-up tests, and the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. I had to back out of a couple of Sheepdogs tours to get the treatment. That was a very hard decision because I’ve been in the band from the beginning in 2004. I’d never not played a Sheepdogs show. The radiation treatments made me very sick and weak; I couldn’t even play the drums. But I could play the piano, and I started writing a bunch of melodies and songs that later became this album. It’s what I worked on when the guys were on tour, and I was recovering at home.”