Stewart aims to touch people through lyrics

Amanda Jess
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McLellans Brook native releasing first solo album next week

NEW GLASGOW – The luminary ceremony during a Relay For Life is enough to make someone shed a tear.

Ray Stewart releases his first solo album at the Celtic Circle May 30. “Through These Doors” features 12 folk tracks written by Stewart about causes that have touched him and personal experience.

For Ray Stewart, it inspired a song.

He’s played at the Relay For Life at the Scott Weeks Sports Complex in New Glasgow since its inception as guitarist for local folk group Inner Voice, and remembers walking around during the ceremony one year.

“You recognize so many of them,” the 59-year-old McLellans Brook man said of the names on the small bags, lit up by a candle.

Stewart wrote “There’s A Light” about the grief, hope and courage evident in that part of the fundraising event after pondering about how many people cancer has touched in Pictou County.

It is one of 12 tracks on his first solo album, ”Through These Doors,” to be released at the Celtic Circle later this month.

Stewart refers to himself as a purpose-driven writer, often drawn to create with a cause in mind.

Another track on his latest album, “Karen’s Song,” was written for the Karen Lynn MacDonald Allergy Awareness Society, created in honour of a local musician whose life ended after going into anaphylactic shock from accidently ingesting peanut oil in 2005. 

Part of the draw of songwriting for Stewart is the ability to touch someone with his lyrics.

He remembers playing his song “Women Alike,” written for the Women Alike Abreast a River dragon boat team, at a birthday party for one of the former members.

One woman that had been on the team approached him to let him know what it meant to her.

“I play the song every night before I go to bed,” he remembers her saying, a moment he found special.

His music is a hobby, and he prefers it that way.

Stewart’s full-time job is a term position at the Nova Scotia Community College Pictou campus, teaching electronic engineering.

Before that, he worked at Michelin for 34 years.

He’s scared if music became his career that he would lose the enjoyment out of it.

Listening to Stewart’s new album, one would never guess it’s simply for fun.

Produced by Dave Gunning, Stewart’s strong songwriting shines through with the help of talented backing by Fleur Mainville, JP Cormier, Kim Dunn, Gunning, Jean Cameron, Dawn Gorman, Erica Sloan, and Darren McMullen.

Stewart acknowledges Gunning’s influence, patience and experienced ear as key, noting that Gunning often knew what to add to a song to perfect it.

“I was a test for his patience, and he passed,” Stewart jokes.

Stewart’s songwriting was kick started by a visit to Sherbrooke Village’s songwriting camp, Road to Stanfest.

Fellow musicians offer tips on everything from lyrics and song ideas to what to do when a guitar string breaks onstage.

Some of the artists get a chance to perform on one of the stages at the Stan Rogers Folk Festival, including Stewart one year.

“That’s pretty good for me.”

Stewart compares songwriting to a crossword with a certain type of satisfaction when it’s finished.

“It’s that type of thing to put it all together.”

Stewart releases his folk album at the Celtic Circle on May 30 at 7 p.m.

Admission is free.

On Twitter: @NGNewsAmanda

Organizations: Nova Scotia Community College Pictou, Relay For Life, Scott Weeks Sports Complex Karen Lynn MacDonald Allergy Awareness Society Michelin

Geographic location: New Glasgow, Pictou County, Sherbrooke Village

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