Release Date: Oct 21, 2016
Record label: Anti/Epitaph
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
John K. Samson's name will occasionally come up in discussions about Canada's greatest lyricists alongside Gord Downie, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell, and his second solo album, Winter Wheat, makes yet another strong case that he's not cited often enough.Winter Wheat is fairly comparable to Samson's debut Provincial, though broader in scope and subject matter. His lyrics are varied, vivid and heavily inspired — by novels, documentaries, history books and more — as he tests the boundaries of his literary creativity, exploring a vast range of narratives, perspectives and topics.
John K. Samson occupies a comfortable spot on the long list of songwriters who should be better known than they are. As the leader of the Weakerthans, and on his own as a solo artist, Samson has excelled at writing touching, precisely drawn portraits of people enduring trials and tribulations. It probably doesn’t help that his songs bear names like “Letter in Icelandic from the Ninette San”, “When I Write My Master’s Thesis”, or “www.ipetitions.com/petition/rivertonrifle”.
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.
Winter Wheat is about preservation and perseverance. Drown out the lyrics, though, and that might not be so clear—there’s a chilliness to these 15 songs, many of which shiver with the kind of stark weariness that’s long suffused John K. Samson’s vocals. The once-Weakerthans frontman’s insectoid croon works wonders in this mode, where it can oscillate between isolation and wonder with just the slightest shifts in pitch and emphasis.
Sometimes we expect absurd feats of the imagination from songwriters. We believe that the best of their output be intensely personal, but also that it should resonate across state lines, geographical boundaries, entire cultural divides. You suspect former Weakerthan John K. Samson knows this ….
John K. Samson’s work is dense with descriptions of an oft-overlooked Canada. He’s built a catalogue of songs about Indigenous hockey players, legendary Prairie punk dives, Manitoba’s “Icelandic Reserve” and musty curling clubs. It sounds like a small thing, but it’s not: to isolated outcast kids in the middle of the country, his ability to make mundane reality vivid and significant through spellbinding lyrics (particularly in his work with Winnipeg folk-punks the Weakerthans) has been a lifesaver.