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Norm Hacking's Reviews

Who Said What about Norm Hacking's Albums
and Book! (including students and teachers)



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When Cats Go Wrong













reviews of BOOK:  When Cats Go Wrong
reviews of ALBUMS:
Orange Cats Make the Very Best Friends (with Kirk Elliott)
One Voice: A Tribute to Norm Hacking, Vol. 1 (various artists)
Skysongs... A Writer's Collection
Stubborn Ghost / Cut Roses / Norm Hacking Live

When Cats Go Wrong (2004 book) [book info]
by Norm Hacking, illustrated by Cynthia Nugent

Two letters from grade 2 students - click for larger imageAn entire class of grade 2 students wrote cat-shaped letters to the author - two are shown here. For a larger image that should allow you to read the messages, click on the image. Norm answered each student individually, as well as covering the most common questions in Norm's letter to the entire class. His answers to questions about cats, himself and writing have value for any age. The second letter from the teacher describes the display of Norm's letters the class made for the rest of the school.

A few of the student letters:
"Do your cats really get in trouble? Do you like your job? I like your song. How many cats do you have. Do your cats make you mad Norm?"

"How many songs did you write? Why do you like writing songs? ... What color are your cats. Can you write another one? Are your cats black? I like your songs. I do not like your cats. Where did you get those bad cats?"

"Thank you for the book. You write good books. I like your book. What is your favorite cat? Do you like your cats? What are their names?"

" 'When cats go wrong' Thank you for the story. Are you going to write any more books. You are a good story teller. What is the color of your cats? I have a cat thet is black and white. Is it true that your cats are bad? Your song makes me laugh."

"Hello. Thank you Norm. Are your cat's that bad? If they are, my cat's aren't that bad. What are your cat's names? I like your songs. When Jill puts it on I am forced to sing."

Letter from their grade 2 teacher:

I want to let you know that my Grade 2 class and I have immensely enjoyed your book "When Cats Go Wrong".

The children very quickly learned how to sing the song and were enthralled with the Tango format. Their hands were clapping and their feet moving to the catchy tango rhythm as they sang. As seen in their letters to you, the song has spurred on further questions and writing activities. Even my "reluctant" readers were quickly able to grasp the story line with the CD accompaniment. The illustrations were enchanting. The children eagerly vie with each other for the privilege of taking the book home to share with their families. They howled with glee at such references as "cat's tongue marks on the butter".

Thanks Norm for your wonderful warm funny cats story. We all enjoyed it and had great fun with it. You have really captured the imaginations of the children in my class.

Second letter from their grade 2 teacher (after Norm wrote his letter to the class and one to each student):

Dear Norm,

Thank you so much for your wonderful replies to my class. They were thrilled to have a letter written personally to them by a real singer/songwriter/author.

After a full week of pouring over the letters and much sharing we decided to make a display board for the whole school to enjoy! All the children, especially the grade sixes, were very impressed by these letters.

As a teacher I always strive for relevance in my teaching of language skills. your response ensured interest and commitment to a full month of writing lessons!

After five months the students still ask to hear the CD and listen oce again to the story of your infamous cats! Thank you for the inspiration and joy your music and story has produced.

The children have asked me to inquire of you "When will Norm write another story?" The 6-10 year olds await the next installment. Keep writing Norm!

From a first grade teacher north of Toronto:

How much fun and learning can one book - When Cats Go Wrong - inspire for one class and one choir and their audience? Click on the photo for a larger image of a few of the Monet-style cats "gone wrong" that students created for Norm. And read on...

Cats students created for Norm  in response to his book, click for larger versionDear Norm,

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for When Cats Go Wrong and to tell you how much my students have enjoyed it.

In my first grade class we have been studying various artists including Van Gogh, Matisse, Monet, Ted Harrison and Norval Morriseau. My students are therefore used to analyzing art in order to find the predominant elements. I knew when I saw the use of colour in the book that they would be intrigued. I was so excited to find the art history lesson in the back! Having that information increases the audience of the book tenfold.

Our latest area of study has been Claude Monet, so to expand on that theme, as well as use elements from your book, after a rousing discussion about cats (because who does not have a cat tale to relate?) I had my students design their own cats with pencil and paper. We then used "warm colours" instead of the usual cool ones that Monet would have used, and using a technique reminiscent of his style, we created cats "gone wrong". I have enclosed these cats along with very short cat stories to go with them. The children were very excited to know that their work was going to be read by the author of what has become their favourite book.

When Cats Go Wrong has become their favourite book, not only because of the art, but more importantly, because of the music. That in fact is how we started using it. When I found it, and realized that there was a CD in the back I had to have it. The Tango sound with all the background instruments was a perfect music lesson. We listened, we discussed, we sang, we moved, we danced, we pretended, we had so much fun! I hadn't read the book too many times before the children were chiming in with the chorus. Not only that, but I often would hear them singing it while they were working away at their journals or something else totally unrelated. That, to me, is the sign of a good book.

Beause my own students enjoyed the book so much I decided to show the book to other classes and was just as successful. Other teachers in the school have ordered their own books and the librarian has put 2 copies in our school library.

On top of all this, I decided to use the book as a theme for a Spring Concert. I teach group music lessons (music in the style of Carl Orff) on the weekends to students between the ages of five and twelve. Each of the classes enjoyed the book so much that related lessons lasted for weeks. We introduced the spring concert by having our students enter the auditorium dancing Tango style in a line with partners. Once they were on stage they assumed cat poses and acted out the song. By the time they were finished even the audience was singing the chorus. It was a most memorable concert!

Thank you so much for a book with so many dimensions and possibilities. We hope you enjoy our art and stories, and we look forward to your next book!

Published Book Reviews:

... this picture book/CD combination is not to be missed! **** /4

Valerie Nielsen
CM Magazine, Vol XI No 11, Feb. 4, 2005
(published by Manitoba Library Association)

Cats go wrong, or can do, when left to their own devices... This is no ordinary melancholy ode to cats, naughty or otherwise. This is a song, a tango composed and written by folk artist Norm Hacking and lavishly illustrated with thick daubs of paint in the manner of a Toulouse Lautrec. It all seems to prove that words, music and illustration played appassionato become hilarious when deployed in the service of a cat gone wrong.

Susan Perren
The Globe and Mail, Sat. Oct. 9, 2004, p.D26
(link now requires subscription)

This is a first book for Norm Hacking, a Toronto singer and lyricist. It might never have become a book if Vancouver artist Cynthia Nugent hadn't heard the song on his album, Orange Cats Make the Very Best Friends, and pitched it as an illustrated children's book to Raincoast Books.

The CD makes for great listening, particularly if you want to tango with your toddler...

It's a treat to find something you can listen to with your kids that doesn't make you want to lie on the rug and bang your head against the floor. Check out for the complete lyrics and a sample from the song.

Tango is the inspiration not only for the song, but also for Nugest's alluring illustrations. She is well known as the illustrator of the Mister Got to Go books.

Sara O'Leary
Vancouver Sun, Nov. 20, 2004, p.F16

For When Cats Go Wrong (Raincoast, $24.95), Vancouver artist Cynthia Nugent used deep fiery shades reminiscent of Toulouse-Lautrec poster art. That's fitting because the text is, in fact, lyrics for a tango, written and sung on an accompanying CD by Toronto's Norm Hacking. And it's sure to resonate with both cat lovers and haters...

Sue Ferguson [on 20 top 2004 Canadian picture books for kids]
Maclean's, Nov. 29, 2004, p.68

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Orange Cats Make the Very Best Friends
Norm Hacking and Kirk Elliott (2002) [album info]

[Norm Hacking] is a big guy, with a big beard, and a big heart. People like him. He plays acoustic guitar and writes some of the best songs you're ever likely to hear. This time he has provided us with something you don't see much anymore... a concept album ....The songs are catchy, cute, sometimes thoughtful.... This is homey, friendly music, just right for Norm's warm cozy voice. The production is lively with a rich guitar sound... very nice. This album is not a ground-breaker -- no deep philosophy or virtuosic performances here. But if you're looking for a something to play for the kids that won't drive you up the wall, don't look any further

David Kidney, (Orange Cats)

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One Voice: A Tribute to Norm Hacking, Vol. 1
(Various artists, 2001) [album info]

A stellar group of songwriters recorded 18 of Norm Hacking's songs in the first volume of a tribute to his songcraftsmanship, and most performed at the release concert in November 2001. Click here for more info, including the list of songs and artists (linked to their own websites for more information).

... rich and varied collection... There are 18 songs on this CD, all composed by Hacking, but played and sung by a who's who of Canadian folk musicians... celebration of a master songwriter... they are well written, melodic works. They deal with universal themes of love, and loss, and stories of people trapped by both...

If you are a Norm Hacking fan and want to hear his songs done in a different way, then pick this album up. If you've never heard of Norm Hacking and crave some solid folk music, then pick this album up. If you are just a lover of good pickin' and singin' then pick this album up!

David Kidney, (One Voice)


... Despite the changing winds of trend, fashion and taste, Hacking has stayed the course, a fact that has not been lost on other artists devoted to acoustic music. The proof is in the range and diversity of the artists who contribute to ... One Voice, the first of a projected two-volume collection.

The 18-track tribute, which demonstrates how good songs lend themselves to a variety of interpretative approaches, includes contributions from Chris Whiteley, (John) Sheard, (Michael) Smith, (Ron) Nigrini, Rick Fielding, Nancy White, Jory Nash, Marianne Girard, Jim Layeux and Brenda Lewis and Tony Quarrington and others.

One nice thing about the liner notes is that they include comments from the artists explaining why they chose specific songs.

Robert Reid, The Record (Kitchener-Waterloo), April 6, 2002, p.E7

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Skysongs... A Writer's Collection [album info]

This CD contains five tracks from Cut Roses (1980), ten from Stubborn Ghost (1988) and four recorded for this "best of" project; originally released in 1996; remastered and reissued with lyrics and full credits in 2001)

Norm Hacking is back with 19 of his country/folk tunes that shine with refreshing honesty, thoughtful lyrics and sparkling arrangements... Excellent songwriting and expressive performances make Skysongs a winner.

James Morgan, Dirty Linen, Dec 97 / Jan 98, p.91-92


The music on Skysongs is some of the most prolific songwriting I've heard from an independent folk artist in some time... Ranging from solo acoustic performances to full band productions, this disc will take you on a fantastic journey, as seen through the eyes of the writer, through rich storytelling and excellent guitar playing.... A wonderful find and one that will put a smile on your face. It did to me.

Mike McNeill, The Sunday Times
Owen Sound, Ontario, April 21, 1996


...Skysongs can be highly recommended. Hacking has an engaging singing voice and his lyrics flow effortlessly. Young songwriters should purchase this album as an outstanding example of songwriting craftsmanship. Hacking can turn the most mundane experience into a fine song. Toronto folkies will particularly enjoy the Hacking classic, "Love at the Free Times Cafe." There are some excellent musicians and backup vocalists on the album...

Gene Wilburn, Northern Journey 2
A Guide to Canadian Folk Music on CD
Reference Press, 368 p, 1998


... Skysongs, a 19-track trove of Toronto-based Hacking's best-ever pennings pulled together from various indie releases as a debut CD.

A resident and sometimes host of just about every open stage in the region, Hacking wears his heart on his sleeve and his head in his hands, turning out deft, immaculately concise snapshots of life's winners and losers - wondering occasionally whether one might actually be the other.

And from the plaintive "Stubborn Ghost", the violin-gilded "Thunder and Lightning" to the just plain fun "Once Was Enough", Hacking's take on humankind is inspired by the knowledge that - win, lose or draw - we'll all be the butt of fate's joke in the end...

Mitch Potter, The Toronto Star, April 27, 1996


These songs, this collection, are a tribute to the writer's craft. Each one is a model of economy and precision. The story songs paint perfect images of character and plot; the love songs are heartfelt, sometimes sad, but always hopeful. Hacking sings a tribute to Steve Goodman which captures the essence of that great songwriter...

There are fun songs, reggae songs, even a Christmas song is this rich collection. The music is memorable, the lyrics more so, and the performances are outright wonderful.

David Kidney, (Skysongs)


Toronto singer / songwriter Norm Hacking has been writing, recording and performing beautifully crafted songs for 30 years... Listen to the 19 songs comprising Skysongs and you will hear first-hand Hacking's warm voice, as eloquent lyrics take flight on the wings of ear-pleasing melodies.

Robert Reid, The Record (Kitchener-Waterloo), April 6, 2002, p.E7

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Stubborn Ghost (1988) [album info]

Ten (all but two) of the tracks from Stubborn Ghost are on Skysongs... A Writer's Collection (1996; remastered and reissued with lyrics in 2001).

... Lyrics deal with real human issues - love, hard work, loneliness, casual liaisons, drinking, children (the album's dedicated to Hacking's 6-year-old son Ben) and family ups and downs - clearly drawn from his own experiences.

Warm and personal, Hacking's work heard is embellished by a virtual who's who of the local folk and roots music fraternity - Ron Nigrini, Jim Layeux, Tim Harrison, Chris Whiteley, David Whitten, John Sheard, Matt Zimbel and John Arpin, among others.

... A wonderful, wordy and sentimental set of songs that obviously mark Hacking's passage through some sort of mid-life crisis also testify to his resilience and poetic gifts. Title track, an account of a meeting between the grizzled, aging writer and the spirit of his childhood ambitions, is as fine a piece of songwriting as has ever been committed to vinyl.

Greg Quill, The Toronto Star, June 24, 1988


Every tune on this album is a winner and the pacing is superb... gets you hooked right away... "Video Love" is out and out hilarious... a rich baritone that seems to fill up a room... title tune stands out in a crop full of winners. Rich sense of melody with touching lyrics... a superlative effort.

Dave Gillmor, Yukon News


Eloquent and evocative... a depth of insight and humour sets these songs apart as gems. There's a sparkle to this album.

Liz Janik, Music Express


Norm Hacking's Stubborn Ghost shines with the kind of inspired honest light that comes from good songwriting.

Backed by a stellar group of local musicians and sounding uncannily like early Cat Stevens, Hacking's grizzly but melodic vocals and acoustic guitar lead the band through strong anecdotal songs of experience...

There's enough humour on this record to break the prevailing grip of introspection, and while most songs are cradled comfortably in the folds of acoustic strings, electric fretless bass and synthesizer add sparkle. This is a collection of really nice songs, ideal for quieter moments.

Kim Hughes, NOW Magazine, Toronto, July 7, 1988


A rich storytelling voice draws the listener into the web of his sensitive lyrics and compelling folk/country melodies... Stubborn Ghost oozes with quality.

Karen Hepburn, Toronto Sun

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Cut Roses (1980) [album info]

Five of the tracks from Cut Roses are on Skysongs... A Writer's Collection (1996, remastered and reissued with lyrics in 2001).

... On Cut Roses, Hacking's music seems to be more rhythmic than on the first album... due to the very strong backup band featuring Ken and Chris Whiteley of The Original Sloth Band, Kirk Elliott and George Meanwell of Short Turn, Ernie Smith and his Roots Revival, and others. Because of the various accompaniments the music is well refined and well played. Still you can detect the asset of eastern U.S. styles of Steve Goodman, John Prine and Jonathon Edwards...

Kiyoshi Funatsu, Coast to Coast Magazine
January 1980 Issue, Fukuoka, Japan


... Norm Hacking understands music. His own acoustic guitar work is smooth yet solid. More important than this, is the tasteful way he augments it with just the right amount of whatever kind of help he needs. Sometimes this amounts to only a pedal steel and a bass; sometimes it can mean cellos and violins or even an entire reggae band (Ernie Smith and The Roots Revival).

...Hacking's songs capture a very real slice of life. They are easy to relate to yet neither simple nor boring. They capture all the love, hate, lust and tenderness involved in just trying to get by. Hacking, like John Steinbeck, understands the depths of very simple situations and the simplicity of very complicated events. The lasting impression is that Norm Hacking is a first class song craftsman.

Richard Christy, The Whig-Standard Magazine
Kingston, Ontario, 1980

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Norm Hacking Live (1977) [album info]

... Norm's biggest talent is singing solo in concert. Indeed, by listening to his first album, Norm's warm personality is sharply reflected in his music.

Kiyoshi Funatsu, Coast to Coast Magazine
January 1980 Issue, Fukuoka, Japan

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updated January 25, 2006