It would be an understatement of elephantine proportions to say that John K Samson’s album Winter Wheat displays variety. The Canadian musician’s second only solo album offers up an array of tracks that are both thematically and musically eclectic. At once a celebration of the everyday and the mundane, the album nudges into the biographical, dabbles in the experimental and sweats a relatable tone of protest.
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Faltering between daydream and despair, the album is aptly summarised by the image in its title track of wheat fields and the winter sun leaving a distant cityscape to be consumed by shadow. The album’s not sad; however it casts the irksome and the trivial elements of everyday in a cool light. The slow beats and soothing, at times almost monotone, vocals of Samson leave spring feeling far off.
It would be possible to claim that ‘Winter Wheat’ is introspective, were it not for the fact that the artist seems to be holding life at arm’s length before looking in.
Two songs that encapsulate this are ‘Requests’ and ‘17th Street Treatment Centre’. The first opens with the line ‘I want you to know what I forgive you for, now that you’re all ashes anyway’, and seems to be an acoustic elegy, with a steady snare and scattering of piano in the backdrop, a tribute to a loved one that requires little explanation. The second is a shorter song with the backing of a more dynamic melody on electric guitar. The implication of the title and its contents is rehab, confirmed in sort as our gaze is drawn to ‘the punk, the priest and the girl with no teeth.’ All woven into a narrative innately personal yet impersonalised by a singer whose simply telling us a story.
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This storytelling branches out and pervades the rest of the album taking different forms as it does so. ‘Quiz night at Looky Lou’s’ explores the spoken word. Beat poetry after a fashion that shifts through a dreamscape of smoky bars and could almost be out of the mouth of Ginsberg. ‘Vampire Alberta Blues’ shifts the tone once again in what seems to be a political point about the environment in the purest punk folk. Samson’s vocals reminiscent of his origins in punk band Propaghandi but instrumentally a reminder of his current band the Weakerthans – two members of which collaborated on this album (Jason Tait and Greg Smith).
And it’s the protest and punk spirit that takes a hold in ‘Winter Wheat’, working intelligently with the subdued tone. Though the protest can just as easily be against the hurdles and hardships of everyday life as becomes clear in ‘Select all Delete’.
In all what Samson offers us here is a record of great length, depth and breadth.