John K. Samson - Provincial | Album Review | By Volume

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John K. Samson - Provincial

John K. Samson


Keelan reviews the Weakerthans… we mean, John K. Samson.

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Author: on March 29, 2012
January 24, 2012

The problem with Provincial is the same problem that plagues a lot of solo albums from otherwise accomplished artists. There is just no escape from the interminable associations to the parent act. This problem seems amplified with John K. Samson’s solo album. The Weakerthans themselveshave always held that special something that edges them behind mediocre indie-rockers to class act—and that special something is Samson. His quirky and witty lyrics at once place Canadiana into personal narratives without ever delving too much into Tragically Hipisms. With this in mind Provincial should be another great effort from the frontman. But it’s not. Instead the album comes off as a collection of Reunion Tour B-sides with a more acoustic flavour.

Even the melodies feel awfully recycled here. With some notable exceptions, mainly the wonderfully poised “Heart of the Continent” with its bouncing guitar line and ponderously sparse drumming, agreat majority of the album falls flat in comparison to the best The Weakerthans has to offer. And maybe it’s unfair to draw such direct comparison between this album and those of Samson’s main project. They are different things all together right? Well, that’s exactly the problem. I think too much of Samson as an artist to go as far as saying this is a vanity project, but it does feelunnecessary. Mostly unnecessary in name—a struggle to call any artistic work unnecessary in the strictest sense. For all intents and purposes this is a Weakerthans’ album, which itself isn’t a bad thing, but, as aforementioned, it’s hard to place this very high in that bands catalogue.

Even Samson’s trademark lyrical touch struggles with its own quirkiness too often here. “”  is an example of what I called TragicallyHipisms—plus it has an awfully stupid name. Some of the lyrics just feel forced: “we the undersigned put forth his name” as a chorus is just gaudy against the at times quite wonderful lyrics about race relations in small town Canada. But then the lonely winter laments of “The Last And” might just make up for any past lyrical grievances in the album. And that’s exactly the strangeness of Provincial, an uneven album that never escapes the problem of being a B-side Weakerthans project, but also hints a number of times at why John K. Samson is one of the greatfront-men in Canadian music and the unyielding realm of indie; an honest engine in a land full of pretenders. So we can forgive him for the missteps, I guess, and bask in the better songs offered here, which don’t number too many, but are worth their weight in wheat. Maybe Samson is aware of all this: “I am just your little ampersand.”

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