Review Summary: Weakerthans frontman reconstructs his own world a little more sparsely.
Like one of the characters in John K. Samson's stories that can't focus on what makes him happy through all the slips and tangles, for a while I didn't understand Provincial
in the way I've come to do. First, thrown off by its close ties to Reunion Tour
, I stumbled through the relationship between songwriter and band, and prepared to write that this solo LP was merely the softer side of The Weakerthans revisited. And, to certain extents, I was right - it certainly relies on picked guitars more than it does momentum. But the point I want to make about Provincial
is that "to certain extents" doesn't cut it; this album is one which requires a measure of commitment, and still doesn't quite resolve itself - but why should it have to?
It was in the lyrics of "The Last And" that I found it. Hidden after a puzzling petition-come-song and understated by its lethargic rhythm, Samson details the bit-part role one teacher plays in another's life, returning to the heart-sinking line, "I'm just your little ampersand." The images he creates on this depressing lament best embody how Provincial
's nature is that of the best works of fiction; there's space here - moreso, even, than when Samson sang "I stood there on a chair and watched you pray" to close "(hospital vespers)" - and this is a record which invites you, and in parts needs you, to build in those places.
is, perhaps, everything you would expect from the man who wrote the songs to which an audience fell silent on Burton Cummings Theater
: beautiful, melancholic, based in the real world but never confined to banalities. Slightly more reserved (nothing on the record quite reaches the energy of "When I Write My Master's Thesis"), it is nevertheless capable of things a Weakerthans record might not always be. Among those: the piano-led closer "Taps Reversed", which closes the record fittingly with a sigh; and the last, droning words of "Grace General" - "What will I do now? What will I do now?" Delve a little deeper, of course.