It doesn’t need to be said but I’m going to say it any ways: John K. Samson is possibly one of the most important individuals in modern Canadian independent rock, being an alumnus of Propagandhi and current front-person of the Weakerthans, and consistently known for connecting the lines between personal and political better than most.
As legend would have it, while taking time off from Propagandhi he had time to write and record some solo material. Mr. Samson first released a full-length of cassette-only material entitled Slips and Tangles. Then a few years later he released a split CD with fellow Winnipegers, Painted Thin. The fine people at the G7 Welcoming Committee label of record making decided to “repackage” the songs from the split in a neat little digital EP, Little Pictures.
The six songs that make up the album were originally released in 1995 and are all re-recordings culled from Slips and Tangles. It has now become commonplace for punk rockers to release solo acoustic albums of the kinder and gentler sort, which is perhaps what allows this album to not seem dated. While the songwriting collected here naturally isn’t as matured as his current work, it is interesting to see the groundwork laid out. The poetic tender quality of the Weakerthans is given an enhanced vulnerability with just the acoustic guitar and his vocals. The wonderful “Sunday Afternoon” is as soft and wandering as its namesake with lightly picked guitar, slightly soaring vocals and the music stopping completely in parts. It contains the scrumptiously regretful couplet "scattered bits of yesterday, with melancholy flecks of grey, creeping back to show me I was wrong / a heart full of what’s hard to say, I’ve let that skipping record play, far too long." While the album is an almost entirely acoustic guitar affair, musically there is an ample amount of variety. For instance there is a wealth of deference felt between the subtle use of violin on “Maryland Bridge” and the rocking country tinged vibe of “Farewell Faded Memory.” Not having the full band allows JKS’s voice have an enhanced fragility and in turn honesty.
There is really no filler to be found in the six songs but I wouldn’t say there is any completely standout songs either. The major drawback of the album is the digital format -- it is so soulless for such a soulful album. Also the length -- it would be amazing if the whole Slips and Tangles album could have just been re-recorded because songs such as “Greenest Eyes” are too great to be left as they are and mostly unheard. I guess those aren’t real gripes though, especially if you don’t care to own a physical object. Good stuff.