Stephen Fearing “The Secret of Climbing” (Rega, 2018)

A founder member of Canadian supergroup Blackie and The Rodeo Kings, Stephen Fearing’s 11th solo release is a bit of a departure from his usual routine. Featuring just him and his bespoke Manzer acoustic guitar, ‘The Secret of Climbing’ is a limited edition vinyl only release recorded by and available from Rega. Yes, the company which makes those fab turntables everyone raves about.

Obviously directed at audiophiles and vinyl junkies it’s ironic that this review is based on a digital download, but never mind. Even listened to in MP3 format it’s astonishingly warm and direct. The PR sheet says it’s as close as most of us will get to having Fearing play in your own room and we have to admit that’s just about right. While there’s a wealth of technical information on the actual recording and mastering of the disc on the Rega website the heart of the matter is Fearing and his songs and they do sound fabulous here. Recorded in two days in the front room of Roy Gandy (co-founder of Rega Research), the session allowed Fearing to cherry pick through his back catalogue.

There are eight songs (four on each side) with Fearing revisiting seven of his own compositions along with delivering an excellent rendition of Tom Waits’ ‘Time’. Winner of several Juno awards (Canada’s equivalent of the Grammys), Fearing has carved an awesome reputation as a songwriter and his selection here cements that with the best example perhaps  ‘Every Soul’s A Sailor’, his guitar playing exemplary as his mournful voice draws the listener into this sublime exposition of the human condition. That said the lambent opening song, ‘Johnny’s Lament’, just about sets the scene for the entire disc with the warm tones of the guitar especially well captured. It’s an album perfectly set to be listened to late at night in a comfy room with low lights as one listens to Fearing crooning, “Barstools can make lovers out of strangers,” on the magnificent ‘Just in Time to Say Goodbye’. As for the Waits’ number, Fearing says it’s a song he always wanted to cover and he does so splendidly giving Waits’ lyrics a delivery which is more reminiscent of another Canadian poet, Leonard Cohen.

This is destined to become a collector’s item so it would be smart to grab a copy quick if it whets your appetite. Purchasers will also get a download code so if you are a diehard Fearing fan who needs every release but who doesn’t have a turntable it’s still worthwhile buying and, you never know, you might buy a turntable next (and other brands are available).

8/10

Summary

Hi fidelity capture of a master craftsman doing what he does best.

Author: Paul Kerr

Still searching for the Holy Grail, a 10/10 album, so keep sending them in.

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