October 21, 2014 was a good day for Doc Walker.

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This article was published 4/12/2014 (2770 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

October 21, 2014 was a good day for Doc Walker.

Not only did the Juno-winning Manitoba country act release its eighth studio album, The 8th, it also performed the Canadian and American national anthems at the Winnipeg Jets vs. Carolina Hurricanes game at the MTS Centre that night. And the Jets won.

"The last time we did the anthem was last year. (The Jets) played the Dallas Stars and we won 7-2,so everyone was excited to get us back," frontman Chris Thorsteinson says with a laugh. "So now we're two for two. It's always an honour. We're huge hockey fans."

Doc Walker is returning to Winnipeg this week for a two-night stand at Club Regent Casino as part of the Bands on the Run tour, featuring Blackjack Billy and the Road Hammers. The band -- which also includes Dave Wasyliw and touring members Brent Pearen and Steve Broadhurst -- has been eager to get out on the road in support of The 8th, which was completed in fits and starts.

The band began working with their longtime producer Justin Niebank -- the Grammy-winning engineer whose name is on records by everyone from Taylor Swift to Keith Urban -- but schedules just weren't aligning.

"He's so busy in Nashville it got to the point where he was too busy to finish it. We had to push the record back because he had to find another producer, but we got lucky," Thorsteinson says.

Doc Walker teamed up with veteran Canadian producer Gavin Brown, who has worked with Metric, the Tragically Hip, Sarah Harmer, Mother Mother and others.

"We'd actually wanted to work with (him) for years. We got a hold of him and he was like, 'Sure, come on in,'" Thorsteinson says.

Working with a pop/rock producer energized the band and gave its sound a welcome shot in the arm.

"It was such a unique way to record compared to Nashville, but we're Prairie guys that come from that Prairie rock 'n' roll background, so it was fun for us. It was a breath of fresh air to find someone different who still really believed in the band. He's such a fan of music, it really inspired us to take it up a level," Thorsteinson says.

Lyrically, Thorsteinson and Wasyliw were interested in getting a little more personal on The 8th. Scenes from rural Manitoba life are imprinted in the tunes. That's What I Call Love is a song about putting down roots and starting families -- "When money was tight feeding two growing boys/a little old house with a lot of noise/we thought that we had the world/then along came a little girl" -- while Shake It Like It's Saturday Night is "basically about Dave and I growing up and skinning our knuckles in a small town," Thorsteinson says.

Western Wind is perhaps the most significant track on the album for Thorsteinson, who grew up in Westbourne, a small community northwest of Portage la Prairie. Inspired by the way Manitobans rally during a flood, the song is about strength in numbers.

"Flooding is the worst time of our lives -- people lose their farms and their homes -- but it's one of the times where the community really comes together," Thorsteinson says, recalling the floods of his childhood before he was aware of the gravity of the situation. "For me, it was this exciting time: you got to go down to Main Street and sandbag with the rest of the community."

Such lyrical conceits are a far cry from those currently dominating country radio (see: beer, jeans, girls and trucks). Doc Walker hasn't exactly bro'd down with bro-country.

"When it comes down to it, I'm from a town of 50 people," Thorsteinson says. "Growing up in small-town Manitoba, I am that guy. I have a pickup truck and we cruise the back roads and did everything they talk about in country music right now,but I really don't feel the need to sing about it."

For The 8th, the band dug deep, and Thorsteinson couldn't be happier with the results.

"I think this record gets to the heart of the matter the most," he says. "I listen to the record and I really see my life in the last two years. That's what I hope the fans get to see."


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Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.