Vinyl Vlog 637

Vinyl Vlog 637

Thursday, 15 February 2024
Spencer Burton – North Wind – “End of My Days”

A deeper look at the grooves pressed into Spencer Burton’s North Wind LP. Since going solo in 2010 with Grey Kingdom (his project following the first lapse in Attack In Black’s activity), there’s no question that Spencer Burton has successfully developed an excellent and unique authoritative voice both as a singer and songwriter – but the greatest surprises have come his turns toward folk and country music. While 2021’s fantastic Coyote album established a new peak in Burton’s development, North Wind presents an excellent counterpoint to that album which continues some of the ideas from its predecessor but does not repeat any of them. Honestly, a valid argument could be made for these two releases making a great double album – but presenting them separately allows the music to breathe nicely, and gives the songs on North Wind to stand on their own even if they sound like they could have been written and recorded at the same time as the album’s predecessor.

As soon as gentle arpeggios open “End of My Days,” there is a delicacy and sweetness about North Wind that is impossible to deny – but that is really only part of the story here. There is an earnest development in the song which sets it apart from everything Burton has ever tried before; where the guitarist would once have restrained his own instincts and focused on style over lyrical and performative substance, “End of My Days” dives headlong into presenting an even more refined permutation of the country sound that has captured the singer’s imagination over the last eleven years. Lines like, “Wake me to the morning, breaking through the clouds/ With the loons singing, echoing their sounds/ A black and white ensemble, telling of what may/And I’ll be here to the end of my days” come off as stark and poetic in a very “Neil Young” sort of way, but the confidence with which they’re delivered easily illustrates that these are the singer’s work. There is a pride in ownership here which makes the song feel warm and lived-in from note one. That beginning is magnetic and, as pedal steel, drums and keys enter the mix, listeners will only be drawn into the song (and the album, by extension) further.

After “End of My Days” sets the tone for the A-side of North Wind, Burton digs in and further defines the movement of the side. “Coyote” draws from the classic country and folk songwriters in a way that would feel totally natural for a country music veteran, but feels like magic in Burton’s hands while “Goin’ Fishin’” makes the most of what’s easily the fluffiest song in the world (the “doin’ fine, doin’ alright” lyrical sentiment is about as paint-by-numbers as it’s possible to get, but it still plays well because the heart in the song pulls it through) and tees up the gentlest, most heartfelt Country campfire song ever written without the help of Willie Nelson (“Farm Life”) before closing the side with a gentlemanly waltz called “Rollin’ On,” which makes knees weak with the amount of genuine romance in it. While it could be argued that the chorus of voices which accompany Burton on his way through the song’s movement would suit a dramatic turn not unlike something that one would expect to hear on a long-lost Leonard Cohen cut (without that singer’s deep vocal tone, of course), it’s impossible to argue with the heart and kindness in the song’s delivery, and that will have listeners waiting anxiously for the song to close so they’ll be able to seamlessly flip the record over, on cue, to keep the energy up.

…And as soon as listeners do change sides and sink stylus into the album’s second running, listeners will be surprised at the dramatic change which appears right away. There, with “Poetry of Pines,” the minor chord which leads the progression feels fraught and features an edge of uncertainty which, while quickly resolved as the song progresses , cannot be unheard – after it plays. Of course, the side ambitiously works to shine brighter colors with the very “Country” song about a dog called “Dandelion” and then leaps to a far more Tragically Hip-identified peak with “North Ontario”before stretching out wide for some bright-eyed nature-viewing with “Northwind,” but that first minor chord will haunt listeners wherever Burton goes throughout the side, thereafter. True, there are great peaks to be found on the B-side of North Wind, but the flaw in “Poetry of Pines” casts a long shadow that listeners will still be thinking about as Burton bids listeners “Goodbye” as he closes out the album. There, the singer strikes vocal notes which will truly haunt listeners as effortlessly as they can charm them and, in the end, listeners will walk away with their hearts warmed.

All that said, there’s no question that North Wind is good album – although it is not perfect. Even standing back from it, listeners will still have that recollection of “Poetry of Pines” tugging at them, which is infuriating – because it isn’t a bad song, it’s just not the song this album needs and is capable of coloring the impression of everything around it. As long as listeners remember to begin the second side of North Wind on its second cut, they’ll be left with the impression that Spencer Burton has achieved a new high point in his career with North Wind. [Bill Adams]


North Wind is out now. Buy it here, directly from Spencer Burton’s official bandcamp page.

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