Pittsburgh Union of Record Geeks electronic

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Great Lake Swimmers- Ongiara (2007)

After two pleasantly nondescript albums that exemplify the most sympathetic connotation of “sleep inducing,” Toronto’s Great Lake Swimmers wake us up a bit with new release Ongiara, the first by singer-songwriter Tony Dekker and his sidemen on the Nettwerk imprint. Sure, album opener “Your Rocky Spine” doesn’t exactly make you wanna pump your fist, but it’s enough to get your head bobbing a little bit. The rare addition of drums to the Swimmers’ mix puts some space between the listener and Dekker’s sorrowful mourn, which is enough to make anyone want to curl up in bed. In the mold of Will Oldham or Jason Molina, Dekker’s Appalachian-tinged coo contains a delicate texture that some instrumental accoutrements only accentuate. When it is weaved amongst the banjo, cello, steady snare beat, and background vocals on “Backstage with the Modern Dancers,” the real eye-opener occurs. Dekker has found the proper formula for presenting his formerly stark sketches that sets him apart from the multitude of sheepish folkies.

Sounding a bit like the bitter end of a war of attrition between a bluegrass combo and a chamber orchestra, the group coalesces throughout—whether on the sparse “There Is A Light,” which brings to mind Iron & Wine, or the vaguely Calypso “I Am Part of a Large Family.” One could easily imagine fellow Canadian Neil Young giving a reading of “Where In the World Are You” in one of his more sensitive moments. The common thread is lilting vocal melodies, which tend to overshadow the lyrics but highlight Dekker’s voice as another fully integral instrument.

Dekker does grant himself the album’s only fully solo track on “Passenger Song,” but whining pedal steel introduces the closing “I Became Awake,” which could almost pass for a timeworn spiritual. It’s a stirring conclusion from a band that had provided little motivation to stir before Ongiara. Dekker and Great Lake Swimmers appear to have achieved the quality that allows a few choice unassuming singer-songwriters into our consciousness. This one is too good to sleep through.

Great Lake Swimmers performs at Garfield Artworks Saturday, June 9.