Great Lake Swimmers provide folk that could blend right into the organics section

By Kristie Sparksman
Photo: Marina Manushenko

Photo: Marina Manushenko

VANCOUVER — A conjuring of emotions grace our subconscious during the change of seasons, some of those feelings carrying nostalgic sentiments, attached to a person or event. While others parallel their feelings to a song or even a whole album, maybe one that they listened to enough times to cause an intrinsic attachment. For those of you craving an album that carries a sensitive storyline by someone consistent in their craft, you can look no further than your own backyard. Canadian folk treasures Great Lake Swimmers have been churning out these familiar ballads since 2003 with their initial release, a haunting self-titled album. They are continuing this long history of musical honesty and heartbreak by realizing their sixth album, a stunning display of melodic charm called A Forest of Arms, which was released at the end of April.

Tony Dekker is no stranger to organic feelings, and earthy vibes when it comes to his music. For over ten years, he’s been breaking the surface of folk and indie waters, treading ever so comfortably in the joyful reflection of both love and light. “It’s important to me to be in touch with natural places,” Dekker says. “Breathing clean air, seeing clear sky, stars, constellations, feeling green things, and being near old trees or plant life. Losing myself in nature is a good starting point.” Having a solid band that carries your vision forward is a key piece for the singer/songwriter type, and Dekker has been lucky enough to craft his folk tapestry amidst a talented company of people. Although his band mates have changed throughout the years, the magic of creating indie folk has become contagious among those added to the line-up.

A versatile bunch, the Wainfleet-raised, Toronto-living quintet have grown to embrace their band’s spontaneity, as loosely as the seasons change. “Much of what we do feels like it’s on the fly, and I think the songs land in solid, interesting places in some regards, but in other ways they also feel like sketches, or impressions,” Dekker shares. “Maybe it’s putting ourselves in location settings that force us to keep some of that spontaneity. We’re getting to a place where we entertain any idea, no matter how absurd or unrealistic it seems at first.” In fact, Dekker and his swimmers recorded parts of A Forest of Arms in the Tyendinaga Cavern and Caves, near Belleville, Ontario. According to Dekker, their melodic violin, swelling banjo, and storytelling lyrics danced off not only stalactites, but the cave-dwelling bats too. How’s that for haunting and beautiful?

A Forest Of Arms carries the same feel as their early-2000 successors Ongiara and Bodies and Minds. The album begins with gorgeous sing-a-long-style “Something Like a Storm,” with Dekker pleading and crooning in his fantastical nature. Singles like “The Great Bear,” “I Must Have Someone Else’s Blues” and “Zero in the City” afford listeners the confidence that this is some of their most heartfelt work to date. “There was an emphasis on working closely with the rhythm section, the bass and drums, on this album,” Dekker confides. “It’s a constant push and pull. There certainly aren’t any limitations ever set on the music, and the songs seem to settle where they feel right.” An organically delightful sixth album has the Great Lake Swimmers feeling pretty content in the late dusk of what is soon to be a vibrant summer.

Great Lake Swimmers play the West End Cultural Centre (Winnipeg) May 25, the Royal Alberta Museum Theatre (Edmonton) May 29, Central United Church (Calgary) May 30, Alix Goolden Hall (Victoria) June 3 and the Vogue Theatre (Vancouver) June 4.

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