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Ian Tamblyn: Superior: Spirit and Light

John Kelman By

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Like many singer/songwriters, Old Chelsea, Quebec-based Ian Tamblyn has spent much of his career writing about the human condition. But an equally important and sometimes parallel, oftentimes intersecting part of his songs has been the documentation of his travels, which began within the borders of his native Canada, but have since expanded to places farther abroad. Still, Tamblyn—a playwright and producer as well as singer/songwriter—has always been quintessentially Canadian. Superior: Sound and Light, the first in a new series, The Four Coast Project, collects some of his best writing—old and new—about Lake Superior, the northernmost of the Great Lakes and along which Tamblyn grew up.

The songs date back to Tamblyn's earliest recordings, including "Northern Journey from his self-titled 1976 debut. But rather than simply collect older versions of these songs together, Tamblyn revisits the material with new arrangements and a consistent line-up of some old Ottawa, Canada musical friends. The result, for Tamblyn fans, is a chance to hear familiar material with a fresh perspective and a voice that, over the years, has become more assured, more relaxed and more subtly nuanced

Tamblyn began as a guitarist and pianist, but over the years has added a wealth of other instruments to his repertoire. Amongst the most unique is the hammered dulcimer, which he features on "The Sandhills, a new instrumental that references his earlier environmental album Over My Head (North Track, 1986) with its seamless integration of birds recorded in the field as part of the song's pulse.



Elsewhere Tamblyn revisits two songs from When Will I See You Again (North Track, 1980), once of his most enduring records. "Fly with Your Heart —bolstered by James Stephens' rich viola, Fred Guignon's near-subliminal support and bassist Ken Kanwisher's unshakable anchor—emerges as a highlight that manages to surpass the original. Even more recent material gets reworked, with the vividly visual "Black Spruce" also an improvement over the undeniably fine version heard on Angel's Share (North Track, 2004).



Old tunes like "Woodsmoke and Oranges and the newer "The Birch Canoe evoke strong images of Superior's rugged environment, while Rodney Brown's "All That Remains and David Altic's "Northlands of Ontario —the only two non-originals of the set—address more social concerns. "Campfire Light reflects Tamblyn's lighter side, while "Hometown is a passionate and personal indictment of the environmental changes that have taken place to this once untarnished landscape.

Superior: Spirit and Light is, at its core, an unabashed folk album that begins to draw together some of the common elements that have defined Tamblyn's music from the very beginning. For those unfamiliar with this Canadian treasure, it's as strong an introduction as you're likely to find. Hopefully the other three volumes won't be too far off.


Track Listing: The Gift Left on the Shore; Woodsmoke and Oranges; Black Spruce; Northern Journey; Slate Island Song; Higher Plane; Box Car in Algoma; Northlands of Ontario; Northern Town; Fly with Your Heart; All That Remains; Hometown; The Birch Canoe; Campfire Light; Ghost Parade; The Sandhills.

Personnel: Ian Tamblyn: vocals, guitars, piano, synth, pennywhistle, North American Native 6-hole flute; hammered dulcimer; percussion; Fred Guignon: acoustic guitars, Dobro, National steel guitar, Weisenborn guitar; Ken Kanwisher: upright bass, accordion; James Stephens: fiddle, viola, mandolin, percussion, vocals; Chris MacLean: vocals; Jennifer Noxon: vocals.

Title: Superior: Spirit and Light | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: North Track Records


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