John K. Samson & The Winter Wheat

(Winnipeg, MB)

He is one of Canada's finest songwriters, but sometimes John K. Samson's collected works can come across less like a songbook than an almanac. With cherished Winnipeggers The Weakerthans and on his own, Samson has devoted himself to documenting rural roads and Antarctic expeditions, bonspiels and Bigfoot encounters, and periodic pleas from a cat named Virtute. A cartographer of prairie Canadiana, each of Samson's albums is its own atlas, using plainspoken poetry and an eye for overlooked details to chart the connections between the places we live and the feelings they inspire.

Samson began his career a young punk Propagandhist, spreading progressive politics through power chords and ample distortion and, while his music is softer now, quiet doesn't equal complacent. Samson's songs are often ones of polite defiance — or sometimes, as on “Vampire Alberta Blues” from his newest album, Winter Wheat, not so polite after all. Pointed as he can be (and before taking too much offence, remember this is a songwriter whose most-quoted tribute to the city he loves is “I hate Winnipeg”), Samson's most defiant stance might be his unyielding optimism, scuffed and scratched as it is. For all his chronicles of struggling students and recovering addicts and “all the small defeats a day demands,” a line that he cribbed from author Miriam Toews for Winter Wheat's title track best captures his perspective: “We know the world is good enough because it has to be.”


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