Album Review: john k samson provincial

23 March 2012 | 2:30 pm | Steve Bell

...but the true strength of Samson’s songwriting, while tuneful and at times even hook-laden, lies primarily in his lyrics.

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Having started out as bassist for punk agitators Propagandhi in the early-'90s, for the last 15 years Canadian singer-songwriter John K Samson has made his name as frontman of indie-folkers The Weakerthans, and his first full-length solo foray, Provincials, sits far more comfortably alongside this more recent fare than his earlier work.

A talented group of musicians add disparate instrumentation throughout Provincials – strings, brass and piano abetting the guitars and drums – but the true strength of Samson's songwriting, while tuneful and at times even hook-laden, lies primarily in his lyrics. Here he delivers what is in theory a concept album – a collection of songs exploring four different roads in Manitoba, where he lives – although if this conceit wasn't spelled out so clearly the connections between the dozen songs would seem tenuous at best. They are, however, tied together by his adroit wordplay and the dry humour which has long underpinned his best material. The up-tempo When I Write My Master's Thesis captures this the best with its universal themes, which hints at one of the reasons why this album won't fully connect with overseas listeners such as ourselves – much of the material requires local knowledge to make full impact. For instance, the track is literally a petition to induct hockey player Reggie Leach into the Hall Of Fame.

But for the most part this matters little – if you're already a fan of Samson, or a lover of literate indie folk, then you'll find plenty to like here. Some of us, however, will be dusting off our Weakerthans albums.

Steve Bell

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