Stephen Fearing, The Unconquerable Past - album review
Canadian musician Stephen Fearing is back with his 13th solo record and a return to an expansive, more full-band sound.
The founding member of Blackie and The Rodeo Kings and a multiple JUNO Award winner, Fearing can often be heard in a more acoustic setting on his solo work.
But not this time, dabbling in folk, country and blues as his understated, warbling vocals hold court and let the instruments swirl around him with a lethargic, laid back manner that shouldn't be confused with arrogance.
No, he knows what he is doing. The different facets of the music don't fight with one another for attention. They work together, compliment each other and create a song rather than a collection of sounds shoved together in the hope of sounding alright.
Take the track Gold On The River for example. The keys from Jeremy Rusu and Fearing's guitar walk hand-in-hand. They are nudged along by Christian Dugus's drums, not shoved. And above it all are Fearing and his softly-softly approach to the strings that accentuate his voice and give it space to rise and fall at its own leisure. The big chorus should prove popular on stage.
Nashville’s legendary multi-instrumentalist Jim Hoke is also involved and adds to that full-band sound throughout. Stay With Me is one more energetic track that benefits from his influence. It's one of the songs here where Fearing edges towards Bruce Springsteen territory with those running pre-chorus sections The Boss is famed for. The soft rock undertones give it oomph without making it loud or brash. It's one of the best tracks on the record.
The sunset tones of Someone Else's Shoes are Fearing slowing things down and taking stock. Here the blues feel at their strongest. It's reflective without being too downbeat and the comfortable pacing makes it easy-listening without being bland and losing your interest.
And country shines through in Emigrant Song. Those wide plains are full of hope and emotion as Fearing opens up his lungs with bigger vocals.
There's even the odd bit of social commentary on Marie, and Fearing is clever with his lyrics here. "The brown suits are back, and the boys are hanging out with the Tories" is one smirk-inducing line in this tail of modern struggles.
It's a solid if unspectacular effort from one of Canada's most accomplished songwriters.
Stephen Fearing has just played Eccleshall's The Royal Oak on Saturday and Kitchen Garden Café in Birmingham on Monday. He will also be at Bewdley's St George's Hall on Friday, February 7.