After a string of albums as a duo with Jeremy Sills (the latest Sills & Smith album, Maps – Burned or Lost, was reviewed by TPA in 2018), singer-songwriter Frank Smith has formed the collaborative Halcyon Phase with producer/multi-instrumentalist Phillip Victor Bova, who worked with Sills & Smith on a number of albums. Smith provides the words while the pair both take responsibility for putting the music together.
This album is in a similar vein to Sills & Smith, taking a folk feel as its basis, expanding this with varied instrumentation to provide a rounded and interesting listening experience, wrapped up in Bova’s immaculate production. It’s all about the songs, concerning the human condition and the state of the world in which we find ourselves, with a particular fondness for the healing qualities of the natural world, and the Canadian environment in particular.
Opening with Emergency‘s call to action in the face of an ongoing erosion of environmental and social safeguards, the concern in Frank’s voice is palpable. The sound is full and clear with a live feel and effective use of strings. The harmony vocals (from Rebecca Campbell) are immediately engaging and there’s quality guitar from John Fraser Findlay. From Straight Lines is more laid-back, a nostalgic tone underlying the feel of the album’s title as the threads of history combine into a web of experiences and recollections, the fragility in Frank’s voice combining with a sliding Eastern feel in the strings. Georgian Bay Cottage is more personally nostalgic, reminiscences of childhood in and around the water of the Georgian Bay area of Lake Huron, fiddle making an important and earthy contribution.
Elsewhere, Disquiet looks toward a better future, but it’ll take time to reach it, Findlay again impressing with a fine slide solo. Handpan adds an intriguing harp-like quality to Giving Is Always Much Harder and Evening Song, which also features harpsichord. Frank sings “The intent was not the same as the outcome” with restrained anguish on The Rain, again supported by fine backing vocals, which on Time have the wonderful close harmony timbre of The Roches as the breath of fresh air canoeing in the great wide open allows peace to reign in the face of the world’s problems. There’s some lovely Rhodes piano in the laid-back arrangement too, The Wilderness taking an equally sparse setting for a song of resilience: “It’s a mighty fall from grand success to oblivion…”.
Death On A Platter and More Than Life Itself have a more forthright rock sound, the latter considering inner city addiction and deprivation. The percussion is more varied for An Awful Refrain, beautifully arranged with strings and slide guitar solo, and one of Frank’s strongest vocals on the album. Finally, Constant Turmoil makes for a beautiful conclusion.
The settings for all of these songs are beautiful in their restraint and sympathetic tone, fitting Frank’s emotional and care-worn voice. With top-drawer performances from all concerned, this makes for a relaxed yet thought-provoking way to spend an hour. Melody is high on the agenda and although some of the words occasionally sound a little ‘shoe-horned’, the sincerity of the message and delivery are sure-fire winners that draw you in, with more than enough nagging hooks to float around your brain afterwards.
A fine collection of heartfelt songs, giving enough space to allow you to draw breath and take in the scents and sounds of the world around you, driven by the album’s generally acoustic textures. It’s a dose of what I needed in these trying times and hats off to Frank and Phil for putting in together under difficult circumstances.
01. Emergency (3:57)
02. From Straight Lines (3:29)
03. Disquiet (5:01)
04. Giving Is Always Much Harder (4:17)
05. The Rain (4:52)
06. Death On A Platter (3:55)
07. Time (4:27)
08. The Wilderness (2:13)
09. More Than Life Itself (5:25)
10. Evening Song (3:40)
11. Georgian Bay Cottage (3:29)
12. An Awful Refrain (4:27)
13. Constant Turmoil (4:09)
Total time – 53:29
Frank Smith – Lead Vocals
Phillip Victor Bova – Electric Bass (all tracks), String Arrangements (1,2,4,10,12 & 13), Keyboards (6,8 & 13)
Rebecca Campbell – Harmony & Backing Vocals (tracks 1,3,4,5,7,10,11,12 & 13)
Gord Finley – Drums (tracks 1 & 6)
Peter Beaudoin – Drums (tracks 2,3,4,5,8,9,10 & 12)
John Fraser Findley – Electric Guitars (all tracks except 7), Acoustic Guitars (2,7,8,12 & 13), Slide Guitar (3,12 & 13), Wurlitzer (1,5,8,9 & 12), Piano (3 & 10), Rhodes (7), Hammond Organ (12 & 13), Backing Vocals (5)
Blair Michael Hogan – Electric 12-string Guitars (tracks 2 & 11), Electric Guitar (5 & 11), Acoustic 6- & 12-string Guitars (3 & 5)
James Stephens – Violin (tracks 1,2,4 & 11)
Margaret Maria – Cello (tracks 1,2,4 & 12)
Jesse Stewart – Congas (tracks 1 & 9), Cajón (2,11 & 13), Bass Harmonica (2), Shruti Box (2), Handpan (4 & 10), Waterphone (5), Shaker (5 & 12), Cristal Baschet (12), Afuche (12), Cymbals (12), Bell Tree (12)
Marianne Dumas – Wurlitzer (track 2), Organetta (2), Synthesiser (2,5,10 & 13), Piano (3,11,12 & 13), Harpsichord (10), Theremin (10), Accordion (11)
Jeremy Keast – Drums (track 7)
Ross Murray – Drums (tracks 11 & 13)
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Canada
Date of Release: 20th March 2021