Shuyler Jansen The Long Shadow Big White Cloud Records
The west coast collective Big White Cloud Records is off to a fine start. First came Ryan Boldt’s bold and experimental Broadside Ballads, a collection of (mostly) old tales given contemporary interpretation maintaining fairly traditional construct. Next up was cousins Kacy & Clayton’s Strange Country, an album that didn’t appeal to me as much as it did to others, racking up extensive airplay across the country.
Now arrives veteran alt-musician, songwriter, and singer Shuyler Jansen’s The Long Shadow, the ever-evolving ex-Edmontonian’s fourth full album. First encountered as an essential component of Old Reliable—Alberta’s great roots hope of the early 2000s—Jansen has never stayed a single course while creating music that has always challenged expectations.
Today’s Remains, Jansen’s 2004 offering, continues to be my favourite album, one that I continue to find engaging upon my too infrequent returns. But, both Hobotron and especially Voice From the Lake had much to contribute to my ongoing redefinition of roots music. The Long Shadow brings many thoughts and impressions to mind: I hear a bit of Talking Heads, even some Magazine, in its dense composition. Maybe it drifts closer to the melodic, Wilco-end of modern rock. But, memorable.
Working again with producer David Carswell, Jansen has created a forty-minute opus of sweeping, dramatic pieces. It is admittedly difficult for me to capture a thread of story within these elaborate compositions, but that ultimately did not dissuade me from leaving the listening favourably impacted.
“Idle City,” opening with raw guitar strums, gives the impression that Jansen and Carswell are planning on dialing things back a bit, but that notion doesn’t last too long. The sounds build, often intensifying into a crescendo of drums, guitars, and keys that threatens to unspool within the din. Ultimately, every song comes back to a core of voices—Jansen’s alternately bold and vulnerable, his cohorts’ harmonies finding natural homes within a complex and swirling tapestry of instrumentation.
“Silver Heart” appears to be a love song, but I’m not sure if it is directed inward or outward, while the album’s most charming song is saved for last: “Mercury” incorporates elements of spoken audio—whether found, sampled, or unique to this recording I don’t know, but it sounds like it is drawn from a Fred McMurray film—that works, a stark, abrupt juxtaposition of beauty and harshness within an emotionally exposed confessional.
“We Should Just Fall Apart” is dramatic in its search for comfort, “Old Machine” is hook-laden, a deep-cut, classic song unearthed for a bonus-track laden Humble Pie or Bad Company set. Meanwhile “Treasure Trove” is an aggressive jam that could serve as inspiration for a show-ending climax of destruction.
The Long Shadow isn’t a conventional roots-based, singer-songwriter confessional. It is at times loud and even disjointed, but it is ultimately focused on the communication of emotion. While I might prefer more traditional interpretations of roots rock, Jansen has always forged his own path toward an horizon of his own creation. It is in appreciating this innovative steadfastness that his appeal is most likely found. Doesn’t hurt that when The Long Shadow ends, one is repeatedly drawn to revisit the disc.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Since I can’t find it online, here is my review of Jansen’s Today’s Remains, originally published in the Red Deer Advocate.
Shuyler Jansen Today’s Remains Black Hen
Edmonton’s Old Reliable is a band with a wealth of talent and vision, more than can possibly be contained within their sporadic group recordings. Earlier this year, Mark Davis released a tremendous double-shot of alt.Canadiana on the dual albums Don’t You Think We Should Be Closer? and Mistakes I Meant to Make. This fall sees cohort Shuyler Jansen producing Today’s Remains.
If you are not a fan of Jansen’s unadulterated country vocals and modern arrangements, Today’s Remains will not change your opinion. For those of us who long ago came under the spell of Jansen’s country-folk vision, Today’s Remains is a welcome repast from the bleak offerings currently being marketed.
From the opener, “Pegasus”-a tune reminiscent of Townes Van Zandt’s “Tecumseh Valley”– through to the final notes of “Chief,” this new disc is a far cry from Jansen’s previous solo effort, the spacey, folk-electronica of Hobotron. “Windswept” has a bit of an Iron & Wine vibe, while the whole album benefits from a sense of adventure reminiscent of Scott Miller- anything is possible musically, and stylistic labels only represent vague directions.
Now based in Saskatoon, Jansen- like Howe Gelb, Richard Buckner, and Miller- doesn’t fit into a neat cube labeled ‘sensitive singer-songwriter;’ his lyrical themes are often dark and moody, but also occasionally capture an unexpected lightness. Lush but not over-produced, the atmosphere of the disc is rich, but not dense. The majority of the instrumentation comes from album producer Steve Dawson, who has never met a guitar he couldn’t squeeze into a song.
Consolation and desolation are equally represented in the ten tracks. In fact, it sounds very much like the country album Old Reliable never made. Today’s Remains is darn near perfect.