As the lead singer/songwriter for Canadian emo-roots rockers The Weakerthans, John K. Samson has crafted a distinct personality as blue collar poet laureate. With lyrics often addressing political issues of the working class in the same breath as devotionally romantic or nostalgic imagery, Samson culls up irony-free scenes of youthful love and wonder in downtrodden but hopeful smalltown landscapes. With his first solo record Provincial, Samson offers up more of the same lyric-heavy melodic pop that has defined The Weakerthans. Wistful and woozy at times, doe-eyed with longing at others, Samson's gentle vocals keep him from any direct comparisons to Tom Waits, but the swaying melancholy and sometimes blurry stream of pictoral lyrics create similar undercurrents to some of Waits' more lucid ruminations. This similarity fades quickly out of view whenever Samson references computer jargon or internet culture. Juxtaposing lines about a busted-out car window with HTML codes in "Stop Error" or belting out a lyric about a hard drive smashed to pieces in "When I Write My Master Thesis" clash a little bit with the sometimes old-timey images of hand-written letters or rusting bicycles. One song is even titled "www.ipetitions.com/petition/rivertonrifle", an active call to submit the name of a hockey player from Samson's hometown to the hall of fame. This touch of realism about the computer age actually works to keep some of the sentimental poetics of the songs from seeming cloying or hollow. One gets the sense that Samson spends as much time at the computer as he does walking by the river composing his heartfelt verses. Like a lot of emo-based poetry lyrics, these songs are dense with meaning and signifiers which can take a little while to digest. The music behind the words--- while pleasant and uplifting when it needs to be or drifty and sad when called for-- is really an afterthought. Not much separates this collection of solo pieces from Samson's work with the Weakerthans, save maybe a few more songs have string sections or he's cut down on the guitar solos. Much as it is with his main band, Samson's words are the star of the show, and their ornate depictions of rural Canada, soft romantic devotion and computer programming make Provincial a quietly beautiful experience.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas