Great Lake Swimmers – A Forest Of Arms

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While he writes lovely melodies and has a fine voice, Tony Dekker of the Great Lake Swimmers
often sounds dour enough that one could imagine he’d like to hide in a
cave for a while. And for the group’s sixth studio album, 2015’s A Forest of Arms, Dekker
did just that; his vocals and acoustic guitars were recorded in
Ontario’s Tyendinaga Caverns and Caves, one of the oldest natural
caverns in Canada, while the rest of the instruments were tracked in a
variety of studios, performance venues, and resonant rooms in unlikely
locales. While it’s difficult to say how much impact Tyendinaga made on
the final product, it certainly testifies to the group’s willingness to
experiment. And in a band where mood plays a major role, doing your
vocals in a cave probably does make a difference, and the cool but
emotionally taut tone of A Forest of Arms‘ 12 tunes is genuinely powerful, as the wheatfield textures of Dekker‘s voice blend with the faraway cry of Miranda Mulholland‘s violin and the well-worn bark of Erik Arnesen‘s banjo and electric guitar. A Forest of Arms
evokes the feeling of a Sunday afternoon in a rural community as the
cool, decisive snap of autumn is in the air, at once beautiful and laced
with sad inevitability, and though the Great Lake Swimmers
don’t clear out much new stylistic or thematic ground on this album,
it’s still a welcome reminder of what they do so well. (And “I Must Have
Someone Else’s Blues” shows Dekker
does have a sense of humor.) From the lonesome drift of the melodies
and the brilliantly rendered dynamics of the performances to the
uncluttered detail of the production (by engineer Justin Shane Nace in collaboration with the group), this is a splendid mood piece that excels in concept and execution.

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