Tim Isberg Running on the Edge TimIsberg.com
I had intended this summer to explore writing reviews as ‘quick-hit’, hundred-word exercises, better suitable for the current freelance market. Another 600-words later, I again offer my apologies. My motto: If you can’t be good, be long.
A pleasant Alberta surprise made its way to me this summer, the second album from Tim Isberg.
A storytelling performer of folk-based Americana, Isberg is a former member of the Canadian Forces, a veteran who spent time in both Rwanda and Afghanistan. I don’t think it is going to far to suggest Running on the Edge is shaped by Isberg’s varied experience, with several songs exploring elements common to most Albertans, as well as others delving into the impact of war, conflict, and associated human suffering.
“I was raised on a farm not far from here, I played in the dirt like I had nothing to fear; wind on the prairie, shade of the trees, cutting down cattails knee deep in the weeds: I learned a lot—what’s good and what’s not.”
Isberg with co-producer Miles Wilkinson elects to kick-off the album with the sepia-toned “I Learned A Lot.” A gentle song filled with substantial insight, it serves as the album’s moral compass establishing parameters for a far-reaching album. With “Highway 2” (“I can never speed enough for you”) and “I Learned a Lot,” Isberg shares his prairie roots, crafting songs honest and true. The resulting adult is challenged in “Edge of A Knife,” an inspiring, gentle near-country ode to (perhaps) the confusion of mental health and darkness.
“Time can go fast and it’s hard to keep up; what matters to you, it will last.”
Isberg explores this theme—that once decisions are made, the resulting experiences, the joys and regrets, linger, the effects endure and last a lifetime—throughout the bulk of Running on the Edge. While the tone of the album is decidedly within the Dan Fogelberg/John Gorka niche, Isberg elects to approach Running on the Edge’s songs with a varied palate.
“Into the Grey” has a bit of Phil Phillips “Sea of Love” within its arrangement, “Waiting In the Wings” an unabashed country two-step ready for radio. Isberg goes outlaw with “I’m In Trouble,” a slice of contemporary Americana, and reaches back to Bob Seger’s early catalogue for the album’s sole cover, “Turn the Page.”
Elevated by cello—both in its introduction and coda from Isberg’s father-in-law, Valery Volkov (a recording culled from a performance with the Syrian National Symphony Orchestra) and within its body by Amy Nicholson—“Baghdad Café” is a welcomed romantic interlude, artfully constructed and acutely voiced.
Hinted at within the title track, other songs are focused on the impact war has on participants and observers. Utilizing the horse of Robert E. Lee as metaphor, “Traveller” recounts the destruction and mythology of war. Whether directly personal or offered with artist license, “Yesterday,” most directly addresses the soldier experience, the isolation felt, the mental anguish of sharing space with the ghosts of those who didn’t survive: “To you it might be history, for me it was yesterday.”
Marc Ladouceur’s mandolin comes to the fore during opening notes of “Jerusalem Road,” a stark and beautiful song of hope and promise. The minstrel’s path isn’t for everyone, but those who follow it are a blessing to the rest of us. Still, silent moments of solitude are universally appreciated.
Ladouceur (a friend of Fervor Coulee going back to its earliest days) also offers electric and acoustic guitar, as does Isberg who also plays classical guitar, perhaps on “Baghdad Café.” Additional familiar names featured include Mike Lent (basses), Jeff Bradshaw (pedal steel and Dobro), and Stewart MacDougall (keys including B3). Brendan Lyons’ drumming and percussion (notably on “Into the Grey”) is appreciated. Wilkinson also performs selectively, providing some guitar and djembe.
I wasn’t previously familiar with Tim Isberg prior to my receipt of his album. I’m so glad he sent it my way. I started Fervor Coulee—both the long-shelved newspaper column and the online version—for the express purpose of spreading the word about musicians and roots music that matters. I once featured more Alberta artists, but those connections seem to have dissipated over the past several years. I’m glad to connect with an Alberta songwriter of Tim Isberg’s significance this summer. Running on the Edge is an artfully crafted album. Highly recommended.