Ian Tamblyn may well be the best Canadian singer/songwriter you've never heard. Over a career that spans thirty years and twenty-five records for his independent North Track label, Tamblyn has proven himself to be more difficult to pigeon-hole than some might like. But from pure folk records including '81s remarkable When Will I See You Again
and '95's more experimentally self-examining The Middle Distance
, to instrumental recordings like '91's Magnetic North
, which seamlessly blends natural sounds including whales, birds and glaciers breaking, to more rock-influenced efforts like '83's Dance Me Outside
, Tamblyn has asserted a completely individual style that is informed by personal experience and, consequently, has an intimacy that is never less than compelling.
Angel's Share is Tamblyn's latest release and, following '02's mainly instrumental ode to the hammered dulcimer, Like the Way You're Tinkin , returns him to the singer/songwriter vein. Unquestionably one of Tamblyn's best efforts, this is a fine introduction to an artist who, with a sound that is somehow distinctly Canadian for all its diverse influences, has cultivated a following but deserves a far broader audience.
An intrepid traveler who has voyaged from the northern coast of Scotland and the west coast of Canada to the Arctic Circle, Tamblyn's writing reflects his breadth of experience. From the Scotland of the title track to the Antarctic of "Arc of Dreams and Prayers," from the Northern Canadian landscape of Nunavut on "Fata Morgana" to his home in Chelsea, Quebec on "Frost is on the Pumpkin," Tamblyn's music manages to evoke images of places near and far, all the while telling stories that touch the soul and heart. Some of Tamblyn's most engaging live performances appear when he combines his musical stories with a slide show of photographs from his many travels, but you don't need the visuals to be drawn into the imagery of his songs.
And while Angel's Share is an unapologetic folk album, there are more than a few hints of his broader stylistic tastes. "Arviat Drum Song," with its insistent pulse and Fred Guignon's richly textural electric guitar work, evokes a strong yet subtle rock sensibility, as does "Blue Canoe." "Boxes," with James Stephens' lyrical fiddle, is country-tinged but, with Alvaro Minaya's hand percussion, has a more unique world flavour.
Through it all Tamblyn's relaxed singing, with its whisper-like quality, and recognizable finger-style acoustic guitar playing dominate the fifteen-song programme. And while Tamblyn's songs tend to reflect his experiences as a traveller and investigator of culture, songs like "Boxes," with its final words, "You say one word and I will shatter/Keep your foot out of your mouth/Help me with this last box/Get the doorget me out," are as personal as they come. Angel's Share , like the many records that precede it, deserves to put Tamblyn, an artist with a singular voice and vision, on the international map.
Personnel: Ian Tamblyn: acoustic guitars, keyboards, percussion, vocals, Ken Kanwhisher: double-bass, electric bass, Fred Guignon: electric guitar, National steel guitar, lap steel, acoustic guitar, Alvaro Minaya: cajon, congas, djembe, snare, percussion, Phil Shaw Bova Jr.: drums, Rebecca Campbell: background vocals, Alise Marlane: background vocals (13, 15), Aju Peters: background vocals (15), Rodney Brown: background vocals (1, 6, 14); James Stephens: fiddle, Nathan Curry: mandolin, Brian Doubledan: guitar tech, Ottawa Folklore Centre.