John Samson is arguably the best lyricist currently working in music. He possesses a unique talent of turning even the mundane and melancholic minutiae of modern life into beautiful universal narratives. Over his past three albums, as the front man for the Canadian group The Weakerthans, he has proven he is a poetic lyrical genius and on Provincial (amazon) (itunes), his first proper solo album, he continues to impress. Although the music loses some of the raucousness his bandmates bring to his music it is still evident that he is the driving force behind the lyrics.
Provincial opens with a dirge of sorts; a rather abstract tribute to Highway 1 East where he talks about getting lost while following another car. The GPS dies fails him and he pines for the car in front to wait for him. And all of this explanation feels dull and rather boring, but John Samson creates a scene that is worth listening to over and over again.
Oh, wait for me, I fell behind
three signs for services ago
Some sarcastic satellite says I’m not anywhere
Spent every cent of your good will
On fossil fuels and magazines
So let this field of flax foreclose on everything I owe
And scratch Saskatchewan away
Make Manitoba paper dolls
Lift up a line from Highway One to tie Ontario
Oh, wait for me
From that short interlude (the opening track is just under 90 seconds) the album opens up with Heart of the Continent which sees John focus on Winnipeg. When working with The Weakerthans he recorded the song One Great City where the chorus repeats “I hate Winnipeg.” On Heart of the Continent both the melody, the instrumentation, and the lyrics serve as a sister song to the original much in the same way two previous songs about Virtute the cat opened and closed a story spread across multiple albums.
The remainder of this debut full length is filled with sparse songs about great Canadian hockey players (a sister song to Elegy for Gump Worsley which appeared on the last Weakerthans album), video games, the crossroads through Canada and other various subject matter that would all seem hollow and bored without the poetry of John Samson to serve as our lens. For instance on When I Write My Masters Thesis he starts with a short tribute to Grand Theft Auto which segues into a tribute to loneliness. I challenge you to find another song writer who can combine such disparate subject matter into a single track.
I could probably write a single post about each track on this album but I won’t drag you farther (or is it further) into my lyrically obsessive rabbit hole. Plan on getting this album, opening your browser to Songmeanings.net, and enjoying the imagery woven through each song. And for those who choose not to purchase albums you can stream it here.