REVIEW: The Small Glories Play Starkly Beautiful Songs on ‘Assiniboine and the Red’

Reviews

Countless albums have centered on or declared love for a person. On the new album Assiniboine and The Red (named for the confluence of two rivers near the band’s home of Winnipeg), The Small Glories declare their love for their home country (among other things).

One philosophy in music is that volume is needed to make a song powerful. The flip side of that is to make a song powerful simply by making it sound more stark. This is definitely the case in “Long Long Moon”. This song features only banjo, vocals, and some clapping in the background. Because the song is so muted in tone, you pay even more attention to the picking of the banjo and the harmony vocals.

“Johnson Slide” is another example of the power of muted tone and minimal instrumentation. At the beginning of the song, as JD Edwards sings lead, Cara Luft plays a muted banjo part while Mark Mariash provides a simple beat. Even when the other instruments join in and raise the volume slightly, the tone and the mood are still muted. It is at its most muted in the last minute when it reaches a conclusion that feels like a gut punch.

You don’t normally think of folk music as anthemic. However, that is a good descriptor for “Sing”. Luft and Edwards sing about all the reasons they could sing: for the praise, for the oppressed, for the rebels. They wrap it all up with the lyrics, “One thing I can do is sing for you.” It’s when you hear those words that you realize just how important that this group, or anyone else, can sing for you. Or that you can sing for anyone else.

This album includes two odes to Canada. The lead track is about how Alberta – with the Rockie Mountains, river, incomparably blue sky, and valley – stole the hearts of the band members. It’s a song that could easily be used in an ad for the tourism board in the province. The other song is “Winnipeg”, which is pretty much a love letter to the band’s home. They catalog the things they love about Winnipeg from “watching the Bombers playing ball” to the Northern Lights. The love for the city isn’t just revealed in the cataloging of all the good things, but also in the fact that this song is more upbeat than the other songs on the album.

Whether or not you have a long history with folk music, you can’t help but be drawn in by Luft’s soulful vocals and the instrumentation that is quietly powerful. Assiniboine and The Red will be available everywhere on June 28. Order your copy here.

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