Whether in person or in print, when attempting to describe to people things that I really like I have been known to become excitable and overly verbose, which from a place of affection has led to my dear wife coining the phrase, “Why use five words when five thousand will do?” Now and again, however, I find myself so taken aback by the beauty or emotional impact of something that either I just cannot find the words to adequately express my reaction to it, or else I simply direct recipients of my enthusiasm to the subject in question.
Such is the case with the young Peterborough, Ontario artist Jos. (Joseph) Fortin’s sumptuous second album of ‘Cinematic Folk Music,’ Fairweather Walker. I have listened to it numerous times in what have proven to be vain efforts to make notes in order present a balanced critique, but on each occasion found my attention drifting from the task in hand and getting swept away by the luxuriant, calming aural experience it provides. So, I will just say that it is abundant in delightful and thrilling content best discovered by the listener, rather than have it spelled out, but this would be one odd review if I did not at least point out a few moments that on each listen have had me swooning:
For starters, the arresting vivid lyrical imagery – sometimes clear, others obtuse, and previously compared to Steinbeck – is delivered from the opening couplet of Fairweather Walker’s opening cut, Heavy Hands: I found you in the river, floating / I forced my mind to cover you in dust. Then there is such as the first line of the wondrous June, painting a heartrending picture with, June helps her mother as she boards the train / Arthritic fingers locked around the cane. In just those fifteen words a story begins to unfold, and the listener is immediately attentive in wanting to know more. These are typical of the literate lyrical riches therein.
Musically, there are just so many spine-tingling and oft-unexpected little moments, especially the prominent Robert Kirby-esque string arrangements that grace much of this immaculately crafted album. Fortin’s fingerstyle picking is deft and subtle, particularly on the title track, and the piano melody on the gorgeous Your Little Paragraph is an utter joy. Clarinets and trumpet (by Ehren McCracken and the ubiquitous session player, Shaun Brodie, respectively) are used sparingly, but to great effect. Skilfully orchestrated, but not really falling into the category of classically influenced ‘chamber’ folk, Fairweather Walker is a quiet and stately achievement of which Fortin and all involved should be justifiably proud.
Recorded in 2013, Fortin’s second opus was deliberately shelved until now while its architect considered ‘how’ to release it. Frustrated by the creative restrictions of CDs in terms of what an independent, self-financed artist with a finite (i.e. very small) budget might be able to issue, after the ‘standard’ CD release of Fortin’s lovely 2012 debut, Typewriter (featuring members of Evening Hymns, Timber Timbre and more), he has long pondered on how to best offer fans of his music truly special, limited edition sets of his work.
Although Fortin is content to offer digital downloads of both (and, apparently, all future) albums on a name-your-price basis from his Bandcamp page, Fairweather Walker was also issued as a download contained within a run of eighty 24-page books containing lyrics, photographs and original artwork, in a collaboration with Peterborough artist and zine publisher, William Joel Davenport. This modus operandi would seem to be the way forward for Fortin, an artist evidently keen to deliver music of true beauty to his audience in packaging that does it justice. Drawing inspiration from his friend Davenport’s zines in particular, of the resultant new approach he says, “I came up with the idea of Stopwatch Keeper, a tiny imprint of my own to release my music in creative physical ways. I feel it’s important to allow records to be released organically, and to let them be physically manifested in ways other than the media we are used to.”
Coming from a theatrical family, it seems natural that Fortin has chosen a whimsical, engaging manner in which to present his art, and it remains to be seen in what exciting book, zine, or other way he will deliver Album # 3. In a world of so much ‘nebulous’ music, in days when a consumer does not even need to own what they listen to, it is comforting to know there are still artists like Fortin out there who, despite their if-you-can’t-beat-‘em-join-‘em acknowledgement that digital music platforms are here to stay, are still determined to create pieces of art for that irreplaceable tactile experience, to be treasured and cherished, at least by a fortunate few.
Review by: David Morrison
Fairweather Walker is out now
Order it via Bandcamp