Personnel: John K. Samson (vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, classical guitar); Christine Fellows (vocals, autoharp, baritone ukulele, melodica, piano, keyboards, vibraphone); Ashley Au (vocals, double bass, electric bass); Jason Tait (electric guitar, keyboards, vibraphone, drums, percussion); Leanne Zacharias (cello); Greg Smith (electric bass).
Audio Mixer: Robbie Lackritz.
Liner Note Author: Jenny Holzer .
Recording information: Argyle Studios; Traditional Grip Audio.
Photographer: Leif Norman.
On his second solo effort, Winnipeg native John K. Samson builds on his long-tenured role as poet laureate of contemporary prairie culture. Former frontman of beloved Canadian indie rockers the Weakerthans, Samson's trademark tales of blue-collar Canadians and downtrodden, internet-age academics continue to collide on Winter Wheat, an appropriately titled collection of maudlin folk-rock tunes where hope is hibernating just below the soil. Recorded during a Winnipeg winter alongside wife and musical partner Christine Fellows, Samson's gently picked guitar is supported by former Weakerthans rhythm section Jason Tait (drums) and Greg Smith (bass), whose easy camaraderie is felt in the wide open, nuanced arrangements. Like much of his previous work, these songs are warm, sad, and ultimately familiar, peppered with vulnerable admissions, wry observations, and occasional tech and social media jargon. Opening casually with "Bad hashtag wants me dead, but I don't mind," Samson imagines a world where anxieties and regrets are wiped out with a single keystroke on the downtempo "Select All Delete." He cheerleads a disenchanted student on "Postdoc Blues," time travels backward through his city's history on "Oldest Oak at Brookside," and chronicles the voyage to sobriety on "17th Street Treatment Centre." Recurring Samson character Virtute the cat even makes an appearance on a pair of songs, bowing out on the bittersweet closer "Virtute at Rest." Samson's music has a comfortable, lived-in feeling and, while his songs are frequently sad, he manages to come across as more of a travel companion through life's travails than a bearer of bad tidings. It's his friendliness that makes his musings on the human condition work, and with Winter Wheat, he's once again crafted another thoughtful and meaningful set. ~ Timothy Monger