John K. Samson - Provincial Road 222 (Cover Artwork)

John K. Samson

Provincial Road 222 (2010)


John K. Samson's latest solo EP, Provincial Road 222, starts the same as so many of his other works, both solo and with the Weakerthans: unassuming guitar; the pleading voice of Samson; and unintrusive backgrounds. The first two songs grow, then, in the style that is so distinctly his. From the delightfully artistic (yet unceasingly enigmatic) lyrics to the simple, repetitious guitar chords, John K. Samson is back and as alluring as ever, though the near-absolute perfection reached on almost every other release of his leaves this great EP feeling just a touch disappointing.

The first song, "The Last And," is a warm post-relationship song, always skirting around the actual subject matter as Samson is so apt to do. The song seems to be suspended in time, using a strum pattern similar to that of "My Favorite Chords" that somehow seems to augment the sense of sentiment. "I'm just your little ampersand," he sings several times. Interestingly, in the first (but far from the last) deviation from City Route 85 and his traditional sound, "The Last And" is orchestrated. A cello plays softly in the song's opening; a few notes from a piano stud the silences; the strings provide a few solemn pizzes; and was that, for just a few seconds, a clarinet? It's certainly not necessarily a bad sound, just not the one we've come to expect from Samson. Frankly, they seem to add little to the music's texture, and possibly even detract from the barrenness of Canada's greatest vocalist and lyricist.

Next up is "Petition," the EP's highlight. With a hesitatingly swung guitar rhythm, Samson sings a petition to have a hockey player from his native Winnipeg inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. In a callback to City Route 85, he sings several vocal parts at a time, a hauntingly beautiful sound, each time the line "We the undersigned put forth his name" appears. A piano and ukulele appear in this one, but it really works. A beautiful reminder of Samson's roots.

The final song, fittingly hidden at the end of the EP, is "Stop Error." It is a painful deviation from both the quality and the style of Samson (or the Weakerthans, for that matter) in the form of a Bach chorale sung by Samson and a choir, with lyrics about technology. And while that may be mildly entertaining the first time it is heard, it just does not stand up to the test of repeated listening as well as works by Samson ought to.

It's a good EP. Well, it's better than good. It's great, really--but only if compared to regular music. But that's the thing: John K Samson, with or without the Weakerthans, doesn't usually make regular music; he makes incomparably fantastic music. And this album is just not quite the same caliber. But it's far from terrible.