Wry tales taken from life by Canadian Folksinger.
‘The Story That Lived Here‘ is the tenth release by Canadian folksinger Ben Sures, and it sees him taking a wry look at life – the tensions of family life, the nostalgia for those who set him on his track, and, in particular, an appreciation for his father who passed away in 2018 and an acknowledgement of the ongoing grieving. Mixing such personal moments with humour and delivering that package in the form of the singer-songwriter folk idiom might ring some bells – and although there is that much similarity with Canada’s well known self-deprecator and egoist Ben Sures strikes a quite different chord to Loudon Wainwright. The truths ring true, the delivery is less brutally harsh but the wit is just as acerbic. Take the ode to family life that is ‘Before we had Sarah‘, which opens tentatively with “it’s nice to see you again it’s been a long long while /…/ we really should catch up / there’s so much that I missed” before revealing that this conversation with a long lost friend is actually being held with the love of Sures’ life. It seems they haven’t had much time for each other since “before we had Sarah / Veronica / Estelle / and Mary“, which might sounds like a serious case of buyer’s regret, but Sures is smart enough to know that this was actually what they planned to do “what was the last thing we did ? / Lie in a field sharing hopes and dreams about some day having kids?” Despite identifying a common middle-aged phenomenon it’s still upbeat and humorously familiar, with a payoff that promises that this never actually ends “Now Mary won’t give us the time of day /… / Sarah has a baby on the way.”
There’s a wonderful contradiction between the musically complex ‘Boring People‘ – with its elegant strings and upright bass runs – and the lyrics which highlight the banality that pervades most lives. Sures asks “Who am I now? Who was I then?” as he examines the many false starts of existence “is there really a payoff ? Are there just more things to fix? Are we just boring people who do boring things for kicks.” There’s a listing off personal failings and the distractions that try to compensate for them “riding in the truck blaring the horn / it’s f-bombs, hockey and porn.” It’s like the Milk Carton Kids in musical structure but without any flowery poetry obscuring the constant struggle of life. For a lighter turn there’s ‘Library Ladies‘ which celebrates youthful Saturday’s spent in the library – filled with librarians with whom “you were safe under their care / Educated and set free / They loved art and open minds and little pirates like me” and who passed on their knowledge with a “book-read sexiness.” It’s nostalgic, of course, but there’s a message in here as well – open minds are a good thing, free education, a good thing, and intelligent guidance is the way to avoid burning books. That’s a good thing too.
At the core of the album are two songs inspired by the passing of Sures’ father – the serious reportage of the title song with Sures recalling that the last days of life may well loom like “hospital bed hooked up to tubes being fed / unable to speak, unable to think / dreaming of golfing and having a drink“. On this sparse and direct song there’s a real message that the last hours, which get such attention, are far less important than the tens of years that went before – or as Sures puts it “the final hours won’t matter near as much as the story that lived here.” And if that seems a sort of heavy message, then there’s ‘Father’s Shoes‘ – a literal consideration of wearing that now unneeded footwear – as a comedic antidote, although there’s a subtle message here as well about fathers and sons and their sometimes strange relationships.
Ben Sures’s latest release is satisfyingly polished and thought provoking, making a pretence of asking “what’s the point of it all” whilst obliquely pointing out exactly what it’s all about. Life, it’s a series of different relationships – and then an end. So make the most of the bit of time you have.
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