John K. Samson’s “Winter Wheat” Is Nothing Short of a Masterpiece

15 Feb

“That hashtag wants me dead, but I don’t mind.”

So begins the first song, “Select All Delete,” in extraordinary fashion on John K. Samson’s fabulous Winter Wheat album. Samson is a highly accomplished singer-songwriter and guitarist who for many years was the frontman for Canada’s very popular punk band, The Weakerthans. As that group became more or less inactive in recent years and then officially disbanded, Samson launched his solo career. Winter Wheat is his second solo release, and it actually includes performances by a number of his former bandmates, as well as his wife, well- respected multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, Christine Fellows.

Throughout the 15-song set, Samson’s keen intelligence, wit and insight are constantly on display. Topics include a former doctoral candidate trying to recover from a bad presentation, an apology to a loved one who’s already dead, a stay in a drug treatment center, an ode to a British double agent, and a sentimental farewell to a cat named Virtute, who had appeared in multiple Samson compositions over the years,

His ability to turn a phrase is second to none — not Dylan, not Lennon, not modern-day poets such as Conor Oberst. Samson sees a world where “bankers warble algorithmically,” “the vampire Alberta wipes an oily mouth along a sleeve of forest in the foothills,” and the birds “carry off the tiny seeds of better ways to be alive.”

His observations tug at the heartstrings: “I want you to write my name under your name/With the year I was born and you began to disappear.” And in the title track, he sings, “We know this world is good enough/Because it has to be.”

Track highlights: Most of the arrangements are guitar-based rock or folk-rock — sometimes with an understated punky beat or energy. My favorites include: “Select All Delete,” “Postdoc Blues,” “Winter Wheat,” “Oldest Oak at Broadside,” “Vampire Alberta Blues” (which pays homage to Neil Young), “Fellow Traveller,” and “Virtute at Rest.”

This is one of my absolute favorite albums over the past year. If you haven’t heard it yet, give it a listen or tune in my show on KZSU this Friday at 9 a.m. Pacific Time.


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