The Weather Station
It was the liquid sound of a song called “Way It Is, Way It Could Be” that snagged my attention. The track was featured on one of those monthly-magazine sampler CDs (Uncut, in this case) that force you to take great care not to rip the cover as you remove it, and then leave you with a blob of sticky stuff to dispose of.
This time the stuff that really stuck was the track in question, by something calling itself the Weather Station. This turned out to be a 30-year-old Canadian woman called Tamara Lindeman, a singer and songwriter (and actress) based in Toronto: a new name to me. It seems that the Weather Station was a band once but is now just her, helped by friends such as Afie Jurvanen and Robbie Lackritz, who joined her to co-produce the new album, Loyalty, from which “Way It Is…” is taken.
The sound is nothing unusual, in a sense: light, folk-based, with fluid finger-picked guitars, gently supportive bass and pattering drum. It would be hard to carbon-date with any accuracy. As would Lindeman’s grave, thoughtful voice, which comes from the school of somewhere between Judy Collins and Sandy Denny.
But it had some strange quality about it that didn’t evaporate when the music stopped. I played it again a few more times, and then bought the album. I’m very glad I did. There’s more of the same, but from different trajectories, almost every song exuding a strong and individual musical personality, each one wrapped in a carefully shaped arrangement. A couple of tracks use small groups of woodwind and strings, very discreetly: just a wash of colour.
Those groups are actually just one player each (Jeremy Strachan and Anthony Wallace respectively), overdubbed. Lindeman plays guitars, keyboards, banjo and — for the final note of the album, in a lovely touch — vibraphone. Jurvanen adds drums, bass and more keyboards. And that’s all. The music never sounds cluttered, or even full. Economy of means is a significant factor here.
Then I started catching some of the words and decided that I wanted to know what she was singing about. Her voice, although pure and uninflected, sometimes obscures the lyrics. That may be intentional: like someone who talks softly to get you to lean in. What I could hear sounded interesting. When I started reading the words, my interest in the album redoubled — just like that.
She prints them on the sleeve as if they were prose, and they read like short stories. “You looked small in your coat, one hand up on the window, so long now you’d been lost in thought. No snow on the road — we’d been lucky and it looked like we would be well past Orleans”: that’s how “Way It is…” starts out. Here’s the opening of “Floodplain”: “All spring I was driving. Every river was flooded with rain, every stream a torrent. Over the highway bridges that run high across the plains, flooded. ‘Half the Maritimes,’ they say, ‘is running this way.'”
A little bit of Cormac McCarthy scene-setting, and then you come across something reminiscent of the plain-spoken intimacy of Raymond Carver’s poetry. From “I Mined”: “It started small — a simple thought. That there was something wrong. And if it’s caught I could set it right, or at least I could try.” From “At Full Height”, the song that ends with the single vibraphone chime: “If he don’t mean it, he won’t say it, and I can tell. If I don’t mean it, I can’t say it, and his face fell. But it’s so seldom I believe it — it takes a clear kind of day. Like air so cold it hurts to breathe it. (And the colour comes to my face.)”
That’s how she punctuates them. Punctuation in a song! Doesn’t happen often, even implicitly (I think of the first verses of “Thunder Road” and “The Boys of Summer”). And it works perfectly. These turn out to be short stories in prose-poem form, arranged with great scrupulousness and performed with imaginative sensitivity. At the moment I’m finding it hard to listen to anything else.
Hi Richard. Thanks for drawing my attention to this. The inflexions in the voice (the accent obviously) and the quality of the lyrics put me more in mind of a toned down Joni Mitchell. It is lovely singing.
Yes, it’s very Joni-like, but definitely not Joni-lite. I’d seen a positive review in Mojo but they give four stars to so many humdrum albums that it’s hard to know which, if any, to take seriously. Thanks for prompting me to check this out for myself; it is compelling music indeed.
I had a similar reaction to first hearing “Way it is..” a few weeks back. It brought me out The Weather Station’s concert in Montreal last week at a very small venue. Live, her music and lyrics were even more compelling than the album.
I am, of course, extremely envious of that. And I must say — as I probably should have said in the original piece — that I don’t get the comparisons with Joni Mitchell. Beyond being Canadian female singer-songwriters, there doesn’t seem to me to be much resemblance. Or at least more differences than similarities.
Richard I agree with you on the Joni comparisons. There seems to be some kind of reductive reflex about linking strong female folk-like singer song writers to Mitchell. Tamara’s melodies and phrasing for example seem to me to be very different. I hope you get an opportunity to hear her live.
Ah, so that’s it, Doug – I was just in the grip of a ‘reductive reflex’ when i sensed a similarity between the tone, delivery and phrasing of Weather Station’s Tamara and Joni Mitchell. Thanks for putting me right.
I didn’t mean that as a criticism of you personally. I apologize that I’ve offended you. I heard similar comparisons being said about Laura Marling a couple of years ago. Yes, there is a vocal tone that is similar but the lyrics, melodies, the way they phrase their words, the mood, sounds very different to me. And, what I meant by reductive reflex is that I don’t often hear these kind of comparisons of new male sing-songwriters with say Dylan (even though they could be made). Seems like new male singers can stand a bit more on their own. So my comments come out of respect for what Lindeman is doing. Again, my apology for offending you.
I’m not offended, honest! I just wanted to make the point that I hear Tamara and Weather Station differently from you – and from Richard – though not from several reviewers, I note, or from friends I’ve recommended it to. The most important thing, surely, is that we have both discovered remarkable new music.
Hi Phil, 🙂
Thanks for a great review. You told me something I didn’t know, got me interested in an artist I’d never heard of, described a recording in terms that I found perceptive and intriguing, and stimulated a discussion among your readers that was (is) amusing and informative. I can’t promise that I will buy this album (I see she has three available), but you couldn’t have made a more persuasive argument in its favour. Thanks again.
Another great recommendation; thanks. I must pay more attention to those ‘Uncut’ free CDs in future – the Weather Station CD is seriously good. In parts, it put me in mind of the Henrys – a great band that I have heard little of for the last couple of years; here’s hoping that a new release from them might be out soon. In the meantime, perhaps there’s an enterprising promoter out there who could bring Weather Station and the Henrys to the UK for some live shows; they would make quite a double bill!