Best tunes of 2012: #19 Great Lake Swimmers “Easy come easy go”

<< #20    |    #18 >>

If you’ve never heard of Great Lake Swimmers or listened to their poignant indie folk, you’re indeed missing out. In the past, I would often say about them that when listening to them, they were an amazing experience, but would then go long periods without listening to them and forget about them, until a new album was released and I would fall in love with them all over again. But now that I’ve seen myself amass a bunch of their records as a part of my vinyl collection, I can honestly mark them down as one of my favourite bands, not just a standout amongst the indie folk greats.

Great Lake Swimmers have always been the project of singer/songwriter Tony Dekker. He started out using the name back in 2003 and recorded the self-titled debut in an abandoned grain silo in his hometown of Wainfleet, Ontario. Over the years, he has brought in a number of different musicians to augment his quiet and honest musings on life and the world around him. It felt there was a shift, though, with the band’s fifth album, 2012’s “New wild everywhere”. To his long time collaborator in Erik Arnesen (banjo/guitars), Tony Dekker added fiddler/vocalist Miranda Mulholland, upright bass player Bret Higgins, and Greg Millson on (gasp!) drums.

Yes, the drums were a somewhat new fixture and almost automatically picked up the tempo and mood by default. But I really think it was the addition of Miranda Mulholland that breathed new life into Dekker’s compositions with her backing vocal harmonies and her rollicking fiddle work. Just take “Easy come easy go”, my favourite tune on the album, as an example. Of course, it still features Dekker’s literate and hefty words but it’s more upbeat than anything he had produced up to that point.

“Call it chance, call it choice
Words escape on the breath of your voice
Spinning a magic as they arrive
It’s not fail when it’s a shallow dive”

But don’t get the wrong idea. It is still subdued, classy, and understated. You can almost see Tony and his band just nodding and tapping their toes, performing in button up shirts, done all the way up, sleeves rolled to the elbow, hair slicked or tied back, everything prim and perfect and no-nonsense. Meanwhile, the crowd gathered to watch them, in my mind’s eye, in a broken down barn, on a quiet and warm summer’s night, surrounding the band from an appropriate distance, swaying in abandon on top of hay bales, stomping their feet, and swinging and dipping their partners in love.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2012 list, click here.

Best tunes of 2012: #20 Trampled By Turtles “Alone”

<< #21    |    #19 >>

Memory is funny thing. And as I get older, it’s only getting funnier. Yeah. These days, it’s damn right hilarious.

I have no idea at all how I ever came across Trampled by Turtles and their very excellent 2012 album, “Stars and satellites”. I’ve thought, at points, that they were one of those many bands that I’ve investigated over the years in anticipation of seeing them live at either Ottawa’s Bluesfest or the CityFolk festival. But that can’t be it because although they have played both of those festivals, each of these appearances occurred prior to and well after this album’s release and unfortunately, I missed both.

Then, I wondered if it was because I had gotten caught up the indie folk wave that had taken hold of pretty much everyone around this time, thanks, of course, goes out here to the success of England’s Mumford and Sons and the United States’ answer, The Lumineers. A very possible theory, this.

But the theory that I feel is most likely, is a simple one: They have one hell of a band name, don’t they?

Trampled by Turtles formed in Duluth, Minnesota back in 2003. As far as I can tell, all six members – Dave Simonett. Tim Saxhaug, Dave Carroll, Erik Berry, Ryan Young, and Eamonn McLain – have been with the band since its inception and through the release of all nine of their albums. Since the beginning, they have maintained a hold on their bluegrass and folk underpinnings and man, are they talented.

One of the biggest standouts of their aforementioned fifth album, “Stars and satellites”, is this very track we are focusing on today: “Alone”. It is fresh and at the same time, old school to the nth degree. The rustic, acoustic guitar plucking is quickly joined by Dave Carroll, twanging and bouncing on the banjo and this not-so-torrid pace is maintained for the first minute or so while the frontman, Dave Simonett, finds his feet and then, locates in the darkness, his backing vocalists. Tim Saxhaug on the bass joins in next, in typical booming fashion, then Ryan Young eases his fiddle into the picture and finally, here, the pace explodes into all out ecstasy.

“The summer breezes blow so tall
And the winter nights are cold and so long
In between the falling leaves ooh“

There is a flitting and frittering sound coming from of all these stringed instruments. It is the falling leaves. It is a lonely wind. It is the sound of voices far off. It is dark here, there are plenty of stars in the sky, and if you follow them, you will find your way home.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2012 list, click here.

Best tunes of 2002: #11 Levellers “Wake the world”

<< 12    |    #10 >>

Levellers have already appeared on these pages, care of a post a year and a half ago, in support of their appearance on my Best Tunes of 1991 list at the number nine spot with “One way”. I wrote in that post how I discovered the band and fell in love with their sophomore album, “Levelling the land”, on which appears the aforementioned track. The next album, their self-titled third, was just as a great and I purchased a ticket for their local stop on the ensuing tour but for some reason, their North American leg was cancelled.

Things were not so rosy with me and the five piece from Brighton, England after that. I continued to buy their albums but found them not quite as solid and I considered packing it in after their 2000 release, “Hello pig”, which to this day, is my least favourite by the group. Nonetheless, I was still enthused enough by their back catalogue to drag Victoria to see them play an acoustic set at Lee’s Palace when they finally managed another North American tour in 2001. Of course, it was excellent and when they announced a new studio album in 2002, I couldn’t help but check it out.

“Green blade rising” didn’t return the band to its former status as biggest indie band in Britain but it was still seen as a return to form. Indeed, the album’s title was taken from an earlier song the band had written but renamed. It breathed new life into their folk and granola crunching infused pop/punk rock, raising the fist and calling to arms, and preaching to their already converted choirs.

“Wake the world” wasn’t released as a single from the album but it closed it off perfectly. It’s a quieter number. A humming bass rumble lurks throughout its three and a half minute duration, haunting and sustained piano chords keep time and move it along, and of course, Jonathan Sevink’s plaintive violin pops in to say hello and add to the mood. On top of all that, frontman Mark Chadwick is wistfully railing against indifference and ambivalence to the world’s woes while sitting safely in our own lives.

“Been sitting in silence safe inside four walls
Trying to remember the moment when we changed the rules
Do you take to your bed or do you take the cure
Been getting out of my head lately that’s for sure

So tell me when are we gonna wake the world”

Indeed, Mark, indeed.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2002 list, click here.