Stephen Fearing Between Hurricanes Lowden Proud
Getting most of his notice as a third of Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, Stephen Fearing has been slowly (very slowly) increasing his profile on the Canadian folk scene for the past twenty-five years. While BARK has brought regular attention to Fearing since the release of High & Hurtin’ in 1996, Fearing has remained more under-the-populist-radar than his partners Colin Linden (who has become familiar to some with his sideman appearances on Nashville) and Tom Wilson (Lee Harvey Osmond).
When it comes to making music, Fearing has consistently, if infrequently, released albums of substance and growing appeal; Between Hurricanes, like Yellowjacket and That’s How I Walk before it, simply becomes more interesting and enthralling the more one listens.
Opening with clean picking and an immediately appealing groove, “As the Crow Flies” sets the course for an album of constant delight. “Rising from the ash and the dust, you turn the key from hope to trust…look ahead,” signals that Fearing has perhaps turned to a new chapter. “As my car flew off the road, images and memories were running through my head; promises I never kept, lies and pretty faces in my bed…” he sings in “Don’t You Wish Your Bread Was Dough,” touching on those regrets we all own.
“Cold Dawn” is staggering, as are “These Golden Days” and his reading of “Early Morning Rain,” and each in different ways and for a variety of reasons.”Keep Your Mouth Shut” is a raucously BARKy, while “The Fool” is as acute as the finest ballads ever sung by Marty Robbins or written by Kris Kristofferson. In many ways, Between Hurricanes reminds one most frequently of an album The Band (whom I have been listening to quite steadily recently) might have made had they been born and raised thirty years later.
I suggest that from my perspective, Fearing has never sounded in better voice, but that seems a bit much as he has always had a pleasing one; still, things seem a bit more focused, more mature even, if such makes any sense. Let it stand, then, that he sounds wonderful throughout the album.
Inhabiting a space somewhere between John Hiatt’s muddy Americana waters and Bruce Cockburn’s warm, comfort folk, Between Hurricanes is a bit minimalist in places, but never feels unduly spare. Co-producer with Fearing, John Whynot, serves as Fearing’s musical foil, contributing everything from piano and organ to percussion, bass, and autoharp.
Stephen Fearing is on a western swing, appearing in Saskatchewan and Alberta this week and next including at Red Deer’s Elks Lodge on March 7; all details at his website.
A little less than a month from tonight, one of Canada’s most consistently acclaimed folkish songwriters and vocalists visits Red Deer. He plays at the Elks Lodge on March 7. The show is part of a tour in support of his new album Between Hurricanes.
According to his publist, “Between Hurricanes comes seven years after his JUNO Award winning Yellowjacket. The title refers to all the things that happened during that period. Stephen went through a divorce, got remarried, and become a father. He also ended his relationship with both his record label, True North, and his manager, Bernie Finkelstein. Musically, he recorded and released Blackie and the Rodeo Kings’ Polaris Prize nominated Kings and Queens (with artists such as Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams) his acclaimed collaboration with Andy White, Fearing & White.”
Fearing writes on his website: “‘“All the fast roads and the back roads, stretched between the hurricanes’ I wrote this line after stumbling upon the title for this recording. After some consideration, “Between Hurricanes” seemed like such a beautiful image for this album and a perfect title to boot.. In the past, choosing an album title is one of the very last things I do before releasing the final master, however this record has been different in so many ways and I had the title long before the final song was finished… but let me step back a bit and explain.In 2006, I released Yellowjacket
and though I didn’t know it at the time, that record marked the end of many things and as is often the case, the beginning of so many more. My marriage of 14 years ended shortly after the record came out. Hard on the heels of this devastation, True North – my home on record for over a decade – changed hands. I was still under contract to TN, but the writing was on the wall and it quickly became apparent that it was time for me to move on, so I released The Man Who Married Music – The Best of Stephen Fearing
to mark the end of a very important era. Around about the same time, my dear friend and manager, Bernie Finkelstein, started to make noises about cutting back on his workload. Bernie and I had been together through thick and thin for over 16 years, but I realized that it was time for me to step out from under his wing and since he no was no longer at the helm of True North, I knew it was time to move on and become fully independent. Blackie and The Rodeo Kings had made a similar move the year before and in hindsight, 2006 was when one could no-longer ignore the smell of shit that was hitting the record business fan. Being under contract to a label such as True North was suddenly unappealing at best and even more, a liability for an artist such as myself. Clearly it was time to let go of the old ties and step out into the brave new world of Facebook, Twitter, self-promotion and true independence.”Advance tickets available here
Fearing & White Fearing & White Lowden Proud
Like most followers of the Canadian folk scene and industry, I’ve tripped across Stephen Fearing more than a few times, both as a member of Blackie & the Rodeo Kings and as a self-supporting troubadour of some distinguished repute. I own a couple of his albums, and realize the man has a terrifically melodic voice and more often than not can be counted upon to give a satisfying performance.
I’m not as familiar with Andy White, Ireland-born and Australia-based songwriter, musician, and singer. Again, I have a couple of his albums, but don’t really know his music.
So, I come to Fearing & White positively predisposed to enjoy the album, but without the familiarity that would provide strong prejudice of what it should sound like. Given that I’m not entirely confident about who is singing what on the album, forgive me the lack of detail here and there.
This is what I know today: Fearing & White is a collection of wonderful music, much of it catchy and appealing in the broadest sense. “What We Know Now,” in a better world and time, would be a hit single played on Top 40 and underground stations as well as the programs devoted to folk sounds. “Mothership,” a dreamy tune sporting intangible lyrics, and “Under a Silver Sky” might meet a similar fate were they not so obviously out of time and space with current popular tastes.
“If I Catch You Crying” goes back almost a decade to BARK’s third album; it is a horrible song in that it- with bitter honesty- absolutely captures the devastation one can feel when love’s door is slammed in one’s face, and the helplessness of friends left to soothe the injury.
“Heaven for a Lonely Man” and “October Lies” are similarly reborn from BARK’s often overlooked Let’s Frolic album. The latter song especially is given new life here, with Fearing giving the song the consistent voice, conveying the loss with more impact than sharing the lead with his BARK compatriots on the previous version did. Meanwhile, the shared lead vocal on “Heaven for a Lonely Man” works quite well. All of which goes to prove that songs can be effectively rearranged and refiltered on any number of occasions.
The album’s opening track, “Say You Will,” has a frivolous Traveling Wilburys vibe that is instantly attractive and should fill the dance floors of the various community halls and clubs the duo are touring in Western Canada. Seemingly a song of love-at-first-sight, the protagonist’s less than authentic intentions are made a bit clearer through lines including “what can I do so we can walk away” and “say you’re willing to be this naïve.”
The album is self-produced and largely acoustic, featuring a single guest, percussionist Ray Farrugia. Fearing and White handle all other instrumentation: acoustic and electric guitars, including resophonic, from Fearing, acoustic and bass guitar and a spot or two of pump organ from White, with both contributing percussion via a vibraphone.
The duo most obviously has great chemistry, comfortable drifting toward the lead mic and away in near equal measure. Instrumental touches are slipped-in between verses and phrases deftly, giving punctuation to a thoughtful or pointed observance.
Generously packaged and timed, Fearing & White has much to recommend it. Over the past week it has become a new favourite, and unlike the Fearing & White albums already on my shelves, I suspect this one will remain in the oft-played pile for some time. It also provides a nudge to go explore those albums with fresh ears.
As a bonus, the digital version of the album includes the bonus track “How Long.” In no way a throwaway, this 14th track provides the album with an appropriate coda. And don’t despair- near-luddites (like me) who prefer to possess the physical album will be pleased to know that the pair also offer a free download of “How Long” on their website http://www.fearingandwhite.com/.
By the way, Fearing & White visit Red Deer’s Elks Lodge March 25; additional dates posted at their website.
As always, thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald