The latest release from Messrs Sills & Smith, their sixth, tackles a broad spectrum of topics encompassing issues of a world weary, often personalised and intimate nature, so you might anticipate Maps ~ Burned Or Lost to be a long and laborious journey. Well you may be in for a surprise, however before tackling this and delving into the album, what do we know about these two journeymen?
Well prior to 2015’s Echoes In Time, Ottawa based singer-songwriters Jeremy Sills and Frank Smith were totally unknown to me. Reviews would suggest previous releases to be not too dissimilar to the two albums I’ve heard in depth, which according to the information accompanying this latest release, “…careens between pastoral folk, to trippy indie rock to progressive rock”. Having listened to Echoes In Time, along with the previous album, Etched, available through Bandcamp, I’d go along with that descriptor, in part.
What’s important to note here is Sills & Smith predominately write songs! They write good songs, however depending on your ‘vision’ of progressive rock, then you might want to be wary, and although Maps takes flavourings from the genre, it pretty much eschews the rhythmically challenging and lengthy flights of instrumental fancy – which some might deem as requisite. So, whilst jotting notes for this review the only remaining references from this field would be, Andy Latimer & Camel (On The Edge), Roger Waters & Pink Floyd (Kings), Guy Manning (Take Care) and fleetingly (Waves) brought Abel Ganz self-titled release from 2014 to mind.
Maps ~ Burned Or Lost is undertaken at a sedate, evenly paced tempo and you sense that this album is meant to be listened to, and digested slowly – it’s overall charm is derived from this leisurely pace. To this end it’s a more exposed, peeled back affair from previous releases, giving it one of its unique strengths. Other strengths lie in Frank Smith’s fragile, sombre toned, gravelly voice, offset by Jeremy Sills sweeter toned vocals and splendidly rounded off with rich layers of harmony. Not wanting to overload this review with comparators, however fellow countrymen Leonard Cohen and Neil Young, (with a little CSN for good measure for the latter), would not be amiss here.
Lyrics are always a tricky area for me, mainly as the vast majority of the music I listen to is instrumental, or predominately so. Maps ~ Burned Or Lost is all about songs and therefore awash with words, however with such heartfelt delivery even these untrained ears quickly latch on to the sincerity of lyrical content. Take a listen to the wonderfully infectious Waves…
There’s some tasty playing throughout as guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Jeremy Sills heads up an impressive collective who instinctively lay down the right canvas for each track. Calling upon their own heritage, the underpinning music of Maps… embellishes, cocoons and gradually absorbs the listener. There’s a sincerity in the music, reminiscent of those protest songs of the late ’60s, that mixed with the not cloying melodic hook-lines, gradually drags you in…
At just under seventy minutes Maps ~ Burned Or Lost is a sizeable listen, however as the album is brimful of thoughtfully written, attentively performed songs, it holds the attention well. Ideal for late night listening and I’d go so far as to say there isn’t a bad track on it, there’s just a lot of them ;0)… Like its predecessor Maps ~ Burned Or Lost is a real grower and over the past month or so has become a welcome friend.
01. On The Edge (4:19)
02. Kings (4:43)
03. A Freight Train (4:52)
04. Maps (5:09)
05. Waves (6:00)
06. No Measuring (5:02)
07. Take Care (4:40)
08. The Offer (5:28)
09. Grave Fascination (4:22)
10. Wash Away (4:19)
11. Miss Us (4:39)
12. Mercy (4:12)
13. Window Through Her Mind (4:42)
14. At The End of The Day (4:56)
Total Time: 67:51
Frank Smith – Vocals
Jeremy Sills – Vocals, 6 & 12-string Guitars, Piano, Trumpet
Phillip Victor Bova – Bass, Keyboards, Strings, Hammond Organ
T. Bruce Wittet – Drums & Percussion
Don Wallace – Electric Guitars
Jesse Stewart – Percussion
Marianne Dumas – Keyboards
Jim McDowell – Hammond & Wurlitzer Organs
Brian Tansley – Soprano Saxophone & Flute
Petr Cancura – Mandolin
John Findlay – Electric Guitars (track 11)
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Canada
Date of Release: 1st January 2018