Reviews:: The Great Outdoors Food, Boooze, and Entertainment

To be honest, I would have reviewed this disc even if it was horrible, strictly for the packaging. In an era where we complain about albums not leaking fast enough (side note – head over to the rawkblog to read a nice little summation of the whole leaking fiasco), I wonder if any label not producing vinyl even cares what the CD looks like. I mean, if you spend huge dollars on packaging for a record people just D/L, is it worth it?

Well, when the new record from The Great Outdoors landed in my mailbox, my faith in packaging was renewed. This wasn’t just a great album cover – for example, I love the cover picture on the new National record – it was an artistic vision for a small rum record. Food, Booze, and Entertainment essentially looks like a vintage book you’d find in the library, complete with a check-out card. As I held the CD in my hand, I realized that the packaging probably cost as much as the production of the 4-track recordings, but neither the label, nor the artist cared. Each song’s lyrics are written out like a poem, complete with corresponding art work. The DDG collective prides itself on presentation and visually, this CD is one they can hang their collective hats on.

But this is a music site, not a design site so I digress. The Great Outdoors is Adam Nation’s solo (in the broadest sense of the word, as he enlists the help of a gaggle of talented friends from the Vancouver music scene, including his former band mates the counterrevolutionaries) project. The record was recorded in his living room, but despite the intimate setting and sparse arrangements and solitude Adam creates, several songs are flushed out and travel across expansive landscapes.

The opening track – If I Were a Car – is a beautiful duet with Be Good Tanyas member Frazey Ford. The two unique voices work very well together, and the chaotic fiddle completes the dark, remorseful theme of the metaphor. Adam’s song writing is schizophrenic, but that is said in the best possible manner. Assaulting us with 13 dark and dreary songs would be too much, so the playful tone he takes on classic folk track of Land of My Deceased sounds great. The uplifting sounds bounce along and much like Hezekiah Jones, the lighter sounds really work for him even when he delivers somber subject matter.

The pleasant, simplistic sounds lure you into a sense of comfort that is quickly erased with the crescendo of Too Many Jennifers. These frantic transitions are probably why this record is so interesting. You never establish sure footing. Voices and instruments enter and leave the mix from every possible angle at every conceivable time. Adam is as likely to sing a simple strummed folk song with a friend as he is to throw strings, feedback or a choral backing (which sounds fantastic on Cold Car) or drop a foot stomping banjo number like Lynn Shalla.

He eases into a traditional Canadian rock feel on Chicken Soup, but the horns that explode add another unexpected wrinkle. For every moment of soothing beauty (like the outro of 1983... (A Merman I Should Turn to Be), he changes pace by adding his own personal style that neither seems to fit the song or distract the listener. Even on some of the most standard songs (Mythical Proportions for example) he throws in an instrument that you’d expect to stand out glaringly (mariachi horns and hand clacking percussion), but actually sound great.

His ability to write a melody is almost shocking. If Jack Johnson or Ted Lennon played The Boys at the Shop during a show, thousands of people would download the eukele ditty the next day. Chekhov and I could easily find its way into a Weakerthans set. His songwriting is very pliable, which lets Adam explore different sounds, moods and styles.

There are some tracking issues, at least for my copy of the CD. Cold Car is not listed on the CD, the Hendrix cover is labeled as Chicken Soup, and then every song after is one off. Weird, but it’s only a small misstep. I actually don’t know many people that still buy CDs. Most of my friends simply download records or run in the opposite direction and pile up slabs of vinyl, but this record will look great on any shelf and sound fantastic playing through your headphones.
MP3:: If I Were a Car
MP3:: Mythical Proportions

UPDATE:: The Great Outdoors CD Release party is tonight @ the Chapel - 304 Dunlevy St., Vancouver BC. Go, enjoy, and support one of our local terrific song writers.
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