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