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GREAT LAKE SWIMMERS
Lost Channels is Great Lake Swimmers’ fourth album and once again it finds them recording at a historic location. This time it is in the Thousand Islands region of Ontario and New York state, telling tales of hidden histories, still “mining for light in the dark wells,” still “tuned to an instrument of greater and unknown design.”
The instrument in question is the singular voice of Tony Dekker, a voice that summons ghosts from times past. It is a voice that is capable of conveying heartache and comfort all in the space of a single phrase. Though his supporting cast has changed over the years, Dekker has always surrounded himself with sympathetic players who value spacious arrangements that frame his vocals. Over time, the band has evolved from a sparse, delicate and hushed unit into a well-rounded folk rock band, sacrificing none of their original intimacy while upping both the volume and tempo whenever necessary.
Dekker chooses to record in old churches, community halls, abandoned grain silos and rural locations. It’s easy to hear why. His voice doesn’t need any studio embellishment, standing at its strongest when bathed in natural reverb and enriched by the historical context surrounding it. ‘¨To record Lost Channels, Dekker and company went upstream on the St. Lawrence River to the Thousand Islands, halfway between Toronto and Montreal, a historic and picturesque area that straddles the Canadian/American border and has been designated a World Biosphere Region.
The band recorded in a number of acoustically unique spaces within the region, including one of the area’s most storied landmarks, Singer Castle on Dark Island, near Hammond, NY, as well as the historical Brockville Arts Centre, and at St. Brendan’s Church in Rockport, ON.’¨’¨
That the album was created in both rural splendour and urban Ontario makes perfect sense for a band that has always navigated the parallels between natural and urban rhythms.
River imagery recurs throughout Lost Channels; the title of the album is a reference to a certain passage of the St. Lawrence, close to the recording locale, where a reconnaissance boat from a British warship went mysteriously missing in 1760. There is no specific reference to the incident in the lyrics, though there are plenty of night skies, howling winds and raging rivers in almost every song which captures an elusive sense of mystery. As the album closes, Dekker sings the final lyrics – ‘Like the unstoppable river’¦Your beauty is gentle, but forceful, and fast’ – before the band ends on a suspended note. There is no resolution there, only eternity, a continuum, an endless river.
Four albums into an already-rich and storied career, Great Lake Swimmers’ have gained an increasing audience in the United States and Europe, as well as their native Canada. Their 2007 release, Ongiara, received plaudits worldwide for being “starkly evocative and melodically melancholic…simple, yet stirring” (Paste), its ‘wonderful atmosphere’¦minimalist well done’ (New York Times) and for its overall sense of ‘Ambient Zen Americana’ (Mojo). ‘¨