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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"Mining For Light in the Dark Wells"

On March 31st The Great Lake Swimmers are set to release their fourth full length album called Lost Channels. The record finds them reprising their penchant for recording at historic locations. You may recall their previous effort was partially recorded at the historic Aeolian Hall here in London. This time out the band recorded in the Thousand Islands region of Ontario and New York State:

From the band’s website.

“…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’s 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—with the exception of longtime right-hand man Erik ArnesenDekker has always encircled him self 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 tempos when 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. Great Lake Swimmers arrived at the invitation of fan and Thousand Islands photographer/regional historian Ian Coristine (
Coristine was able to arrange for the band to record 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.
Additional recording took place at Halla and the Lincoln County Social Club in Toronto and the album was woven into a cohesive whole at the House Of Miracles, in London, ON, with long-time Great Lake Swimmers collaborator, Andy Magoffin.

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’s 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.

A full review will follow once I have the CD in my hands. I strongly urge you to check out the music of Tony Dekker and the Great Lake Swimmers. Their recordings are sublimely beautiful, their live performances awe inspiring.

Live dates here under shows.


Mr. e said...

Nice to see they'll be opening for Tweedy. That would be a great show mix.

Wish they were playing closer though.


T said...

Hi Sean,

Great post! Didn't know that the 'recording in historic places' thing is still happening

BTW - Looks like Alison Brown and I have booked $100 for an instore at Grooves just before the Weakerthans/Constantines/$100 show on April 3rd. Wondering is you could possibly write about it sometime in the future.

Thanks, Teturner at

T said...


Ruh said...

Oh man, I didn't even know they had a new record coming out -- thanks for this post. I finally saw them last summer and realised what all the fuss was about. What a great band!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Great news! I cannot wait, as the world always needs more Great Lake Swimmers.

I'm glad to hear that they are continuing with recording in unusual locales. I really think that a richness is added to those albums in which they experiment with recording spaces.

Phronk said...

Wow, that's the second time I've heard of Aeolian Hall in the last few minutes (it was also nominated for best live music club in Canada on CBC Radio 3, along with Call the Office).

The R.O.B. said...

How is there only 1 SW Ontario date? To that I say... "Balls".

Sean Wraight said...

T- Absolutely. Send me the information. I would love to post something. Very much looking forward to that local show!

RUH- They are a great band aren't they. There is a certain ageless quality in their music that enthralls me every time. Seeing them in person is a very different experience from listening to their recorded output mind you. They really do shine in concert.

BARB -So true... I think their recording locale has everything to do with their very unique sound. Sublime stuff. They move me every time.

PHRONK The Aeolian Hall is the London's best venue. Everything I have seen there has bordered on magical. The Matt Mays and Hayden shows last year were near mystical.

R.O.B. - Give them time my friend. I know they'll be back to do it right. Perhaps we'll be lucky and see them under the stars during festival time.