A soundtrack of primitive folk songs and atmospheric instrumentals
Fiver is essentially one of the many avenues Toronto’s Simone Schmidt uses to pursue her musical journey, quite a fascinating one as it turns out with her CV mentioning many ensembles she has led, ranging from punk to avant garde folk music. This latest affair is the soundtrack to a documentary about a Canadian poet, Joe Wallace, the film directed by Wallace’s great niece. Wallace was what was then called a radical, a member of the Canadian communist party, interned in the early years of world war two by the Canadian government.
The album consists of five of Wallace’s poems set to music by Schmidt along with a second half of what might be called mood music, instrumentals influenced by the arrangements accorded to the five poems. Recording with a very sympathetic trio of musicians (John Showman, fiddle, Nick Dourado, lap steel and Nathan Doucet on percussion) Schmidt manages a fine balancing act here with the songs accorded a wonderful, primitive folk touch while the instrumentals are quite evocative, reminding one of very early Calexico recordings along with an album which this reviewer cherishes, namely, Buddy & The Huddle’s imagined soundtrack for Cormac McCarthy’s ‘Suttree’.
On the songs, Schmidt reminds one of pioneers such as Michael Hurley and Karen Dalton with her raw readings of the poems, while Wallace’s words show that he was an acute critic of capitalism as on the excellent ‘Song Of The Mournful Millionaire’ while he also supported the doomed pair of ‘Sacco and Vanzetti’. The only complaint here is that the songs are so short that they are delivered in the space of around 15 minutes. One would have loved to hear more of them.
The instrumentals are probably best appreciated when viewing the documentary but there’s no denying that Schmidt and her team can capture emotion and a sense of place with their warm ambient playing. Again, it’s a pity regarding the brevity of the disc, one would have loved to hear much more.