Usually when a touring musician spends his nights completing someone else’s thoughts and creating textures to help define a mood, the time allotted for their own compositions results in reserved, spare arrangements. A needed retreat from the road and the chance to be alone with their own thoughts. For Ottawa’s Jim Bryson, those precious few moments of solitude resulted in some of the most prized songs in my collection, and a record that creaked with the love and uncertainty Jim felt in his apartment.
With the upcoming release of The Falcon Lake Incident, Bryson is joined in the studio by the band he’s toured as a part of for years – Canadian institution The Weakerthans. Ironically, it was the decision for the band and Jim to switch roles that helped Bryson’s work evolve from bedroom compositions to a collection of fleshed out songs as powerful and moving as any record released in Canada this year. While that might seem hyperbolic – or even like a back handed compliment – the Winnipeg band and Jim spend hour after hour playing shows and watching the odometer turn. They know how to complete each others thoughts; both conversationally and musically. Most importantly, they have a mutual respect for each others craft. There’s never a moment when the band steps over Jim, even as he trades vocals with one of Canada’s most respected song writers, but those extra notes and the chance to explore each riff as a group are crucial to The Falcon Lake Incident.
Jim still tells fantastic, sad stories built from subtle, straightforward guitar work and his songs are still filled with purpose, but everything somehow seems more focused and crisper. A trademark Bryson guitar line makes up the foundation of “Freeways In The Front Yard”, but adding the textures, steel and female vocals of Jill Barber to the story cement the heartache and sadness. The little moments (the horns on “Kissing Cousins”, the piano and harmonies on “Anything And All”) all complete Jim’s thoughts in new ways, ways that are almost impossible to create on your own, and I’d bet the input from his talented friends helped Jim develop these hooks I didn’t know he had in him. Honestly, picturing Jim standing alone at a small club and revealing the chugging chords of “Up All Night” or the surging guitar & drums of “Wild Folk” would have blown my mind.
The best thing about the experience is that everything Jim hashed out with his friends seems so natural. Bryson hasn’t lost his voice or alienated fans of his bedroom masterpieces, simply expanded his palette for all to enjoy. Without question the extra oomph The Falcon Lake Incident offers up is going to turn this talent into a name known by an audience bigger than CBC3… and it couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy.