The Hidden Cameras mastermind Joel Gibb has been away from his Canadian homeland for some time. Based in Berlin for a number of years, Gibb has taken Hidden Cameras fans on an unexpected journey over the course of their last two albums, making unlikely forays into the likes of post-rock and murky electro-pop.
But, as you might guess from the title of his band’s seventh full-length album, Gibb has made his way home. And he’s in the mood to celebrate. Gibb’s means of celebration has been to round up a host of his favourite Canadian contemporaries – including Ron Sexsmith, Rufus Wainwright, Bahamas, and Mary Margaret O’Hara – and get together for a folksy and classic country knees up. Oh Canadiana, how we love you so.
It’s a welcome return to the rustic genre of his native land for Gibb, who achieved resounding success with 2009’s brash and expansive Origin: Orphan but less so with the hit-and-miss experiments of 2014’s AGE, and on the whole his affectionate explorations into rootsy Canadiana traditions are an infectious delight. Fans of The Hidden Cameras’ earlier albums will no doubt be thrilled to hear this. Listening to Home On Native Land, it’s clear Gibb is in element here, his honeyed voice crooning sweet melodies over plinking pianos, plucky banjo struts, and swelling string arrangements.
The spry Day I Left Home sets the tone for the album beautifully, with Gibb’s pastoral tale of a man heading to the woods to start over not all that it seems, as he trots it out over a groove of deftly arranged acoustics and whining slide guitar. Gibb knows his ground well. There is an assurance – you could even say a grace – to his songwriting, that suggests there is unlikely to be many missteps in the following 48 minutes of music, even if there might have been a few made by the venturous narrator of this opening track.
Gibb is a prominent figurehead in the indier end of the LGBTQ community – at one time he spoke of The Hidden Cameras as “gay church folk” – and, as in their formative years, his foregrounding of sexual diversity provides emotional heft to the lightness of the music. He even finds room to cover his own work on second track He Is The Boss Of Me, a stirring tale of gleeful submission from the band’s debut LP Ecce Homo, with the enhanced production making for a brisk canter down memory lane, which rightly elevates the sweeping vocal melody jammed with lyrical gems like “He is my walrus and I am his blubber.”
He also pulls off a wonderful re-telling of traditional Canadian folk song The Log Driver’s Waltz, which famously featured in a National Film Board of Canada animation in the 1980s. Feist, Rufus Wainwright and Mary Margaret O’Hara lend vocals to bring a grand communal feel to the chorus, so you can almost picture the tankards being raised in celebration as the song is chanted in bars throughout northern Canada. Such raucous hollering is a feature of the album, with Gibb’s Drunk Dancer’s Waltz also treated to a particularly grandstand finish.
Above all else, it’s clear everyone assembled is having enormous fun romping through old Canadiana. And this is surely no truer than on album highlight Counting Stars, with its rollicking guitars, surging country rhythms, and the rousing wails of its gospel finale.
Where Home On Native Land encounters problems is that, at 48 minutes, it is overly long and can feel like much of a muchness after a while, especially with some songs, such as The Great Reward or the inane Ode To An Ah, failing to add anything fresh or exciting to the mix. But overall Gibb has invited us on an entertaining jaunt through the musical traditions of rural Canada. On this evidence, he’s finding it good to be home.