A wry voice from up north
By Mark Jenkins
Friday, Mar. 9, 2012
There's a term for the style of music John K. Samson plays: Americana. But better make that "North Americana." Samson lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and on his first solo album, "Provincial," he sings about prairie highways and hockey near-legends in addition to less, well, provincial subjects.
Samson, formerly of the leftist-punk Propagandhi and the alt-rock Weatherthans, now writes about grown-up regrets with the authenticity of a Grand Ole Opry veteran.
The singer-guitarist is a bookish sort, though. One of the album's liveliest (and funniest) tunes puts a grad-student twist on the familiar tale of the lover who offers a conditional second chance. His ex will return, Samson sings, "When I Write My Master's Thesis."
The album is roughly divided between rockers driven by electric guitar and ballads. The ballads show more musical variety. Discreet vocal harmonies prettify "Heart of the Continent"; "The Last And" broods atop a jazz-bass stroll; and "Grace General" is mostly voice, cello and slo-mo guitar feedback, with a hint of trombone at the end.
Such touches keep "Provincial" interesting, but the album's principal assets are humor and humanity.