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Reviews

West My FriendWest My Friend
Album: Quiet Hum
Label: Grammar Fight
Tracks: 1
Website: http://www.westmyfriend com

Cascadian third-wave indie progressive chamber folk-roots, it says on the blurb. Make of that what you will, but in common parlance it roughly translates as a musically eclectic offering from the Vancouver quartet that mingles together folk, jazz, pop and, in line with their degree backgrounds, classical. They are, for those not yet friended, lead singer and guitarist Eden Oliver, accordionist Jeff Poynter, Alex Rempel on mandolin and Nick Mintenko , the only playing the instrument on which he actually trained, providing double bass.

Taking its title from a line in "Willows" (a song about competing for attention in the music business), their third album kicks off with "No Good Monster", a sunning rippling folksy number about never taking chances for fear of rejection ("every door I open up, is one door more that you could choose to shut") , whether that's about writing a song or falling in love. Showcasing Poynter, the jazzy - slightly Eastern European "A Birthday" is one of two poems set to music, this by Christina Rossetti, while, slightly more contemporary, "Tombée (Falling)", airily sung in French against accordion and scratchy percussive guitar, is by CBC prize winning Montreal based French-Canadian poet Joanne Morency.

There's two other non-originals, Mintenko's double bass underpinning a very early Joni Mitchell styled treatment of "Go Straightaway" from Julia Easterlin's Vestiges album, the other being "All Day Long", a lilting Celtic-hued arrangement of a song about 'work, purpose and capitalism' by Halifax activist and artist Zachary Gough with a mandolin solo from Rempel and.Oliver harmonising with herself.

There's political comment too on the lurching "The New World", wheezing accordion and picked guitar accompanying Oliver's deceptively jaunty vocals on a song framed as a dialogue between colonisers that addresses the crimes perpetrated against Canada's First Nations peoples. Elsewhere, they till the familiar ground of relationships on the likes of the gently undulating "Polish & Keep", Oliver in particularly pure voice, the mandolin strum "Letters" and the baroque, trickling stream melody of "Where Has My Love Gone?", the former with Rempel taking lead and the latter featuring the sweet vocals of Mintenko. By way of something different "Spruce Top" finds Oliver singing a love song to a guitar and the music and images it can create.

However, the most poignant number here is the piano-accompanied ballad "Gradient Graceful", a loving tribute to someone who's raised you from a child, but is now ageing and in the grip of Alzheimer's as Oliver sings "you've taught me how to miss someone who's still here."

The album closes with Rempel on lead again (and also whistling) for the waltzing, mandolin-led, brass-flourished "How Could I Not Sing?", a number that, swelling to an anthemic finale, asks how, if you have the ability to use the power of song music to ask questions, to make people think or to inspire, surely you have a duty to do so for "if the voice falls silent, it forgets what once was." Hum along.

Mike Davies