Album Reviews

Great Lake Swimmers – Ongiara

(Nettwerk) UK release date: 16 April 2007


Named after a band of lunatics/heroes whose aim to swim the great lakes of Canada is where singer/songwriter Tony Dekker gleaned the name from for his own brand of folky nature hymns. Thankfully there isn’t a pair of tight Speedos in sight. Or verrucas.

Like some paean to the great Canadian wilderness this is a spacious low-paced understated organic music to sweep you over the horizon on unhurried wings of rustic instrumentation and sweet harmonies. The landscape’s beauty is echoed by the emotional journeys, views, snapshots and terrain taken in on this their third album. Thankfully fleshed out from the navel-gazing of one man, the Swimmers are complimented by a full band who with splashes of acoustic guitar, piano, pedal steel, strings, banjos and mandolins create a homespun tapestry of sound and imagery that is at once familiar and an inviting landscape.

Rarely one to canter or break out of a glorious melancholy cheery tune an album full of revelations of the personal reflective kind set in easy-breathing natural ambience like climbing a wooded hill and being swallowed by the view. That the view is of dead animals or the disappearing rear of a loved one over the horizon merely adds to the resonance evoked the the Swimmers.

Tying the personal to the geographical in the swooping phrase of being ‘lost in the lakes and the shapes that your body makes’ set to a gentle barndance scamper, sets the path for what lies ahead. Shot through with wry regret, subtle observations Backstage With The Modern Dancers is voyeuristic as the title suggests but turned from mere documentary by Dekker’s haunting (and haunted) vocals shimmering like goosebumps of frailty, beauty and unrequited longing. The added shades of depth are provided by backing vocalist Sarah Harmer’s harmonies that tangle with Dekker’s �lone wolf’ to make things less sparse.

Despite the melancholy there is joy aplenty with the I Am Part Of A Large Family offering up the happy observation of inclusion the title suggests, albeit to a chunky piece of indie-folk. There Is A Light is even a gentle protest song set to glockenspiel and a refrain to �put all your weapons away’ that beats the bluster and posturing to take a scolding parental role.

It would be easy to slip into the narcolepsy of acoustic nod-off were it not for the attention to detail and sonic variety on show. Put There By The Land’s electric guitar slashes across the rolling acoustics like a knife, the strings that make Where In The World Are You swoon and sigh like film noir cinematic regret and I Became Awake is a waltz of timpani,pause and pedal steel yearning off into the wilderness with a cheery wave.

The glue beneath all of these songs is the delicate voice of Tony Dekker which, while dappled with reverb, has been compared to Nick Drake. Sharing the same �ambient folk’ lineage as The Lilac Time, Iron and Wine, Red House Painters, Gram Parsons and Sufjan Stevens tunes ease themselves into your vision like ear �comfort blankets’ and won’t shake themselves even when the mood is defiantly perky.

This is an uncommonly beautiful album full of rustic, timeless beauty that will have you reaching for it in the way you would for old favourites including Neil Young’s After The Goldrush, Grievous Angel or Five Leaves Left. Albums that you can leave on for the duration without skipping tracks and let their tunes breathe around your room. Take the plunge and go swim some Great Lakes. Come on in, the water’s a serene dream.


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More on Great Lake Swimmers
Great Lake Swimmers – Lost Channels
Great Lake Swimmers – Ongiara