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Kim Stockwood: back to the water

Perhaps no place, any place, is as proud of its musical traditions as the island of Newfoundland. The musical currents run deep there, as generations of great songwriters and musicians have proven.

Kim Stockwood has earned her place among Newfoundland’s notable workers in song. Between her solo recordings, and her Juno-nominated work with East Coast trio Shaye, she’s paid her dues and earned her success.

Til now, though, she hasn’t fully plumbed the depths of her heritage on a record. Her new album, back to the water, is a welcome return to those roots.

Chock-full of certified classics, from “St. John’s Waltz” to “Ode to Newfoundland“, the album shows Stockwood’s maturity as an artist by focusing on the quality of the material she’s chosen. These are GREAT songs, and it takes a smart, confident interpreter to show them in new light.

Too many folk albums focus on achieving the high production values of contemporary country, and lose some soul in the process. back to the water strives instead for the simplicity of classic standards, and gains the sense of space these songs deserve.

In nearly every case, the songs are stripped to their bare, beautiful bones.

The opening track, “St. John’s Waltz,” one of two by master songsmith Ron Hynes, begins with simple, plucked guitar harmonics. Free to roll, the  wave-like groove sets the tone for ocean-facing ode to the city’s proud history.

On “Let Me Fish Off Cape St. Mary’s”, simple piano accompaniment to Stockwood’s slightly husky vocal showcases the gorgeous melody and aching lyrics of that iconic piece, written by Otto Kelland in 1947.

“Now I’m 64,” a traditional waltz , is ably uplifted with vocal help from The Once. While banjo, button accordion, fiddle and mandolin echo many a kitchen table session, the understated arrangement favours the song over the jam.

The title track “Back to the Water”, a co-write with former band-mate Dahmnait Doyle,  is a great song for Stockwood’s voice: the trills on the line “Gotta get back to the water” are lovely, and the lyric sets the tone for the album with its poignant homeward glances. Kudos to Stockwood for placing this single example of her own writing within appropriate context. That takes real humility.

The album’s highlight is “Squid-Jiggin’ Ground”, a well-known piece easily mistaken for a novelty song. With an old-time jazz guitar strumming a light-stepping waltz, it’s a happy song, to be sure. And the treatment of character and action is indeed comical. But like all great folk art, this is a song with a lot of heart, and a perfect sense of place.

Throughout, Stockwood hews as close as possible to the spirit of the song as heard from today’s vantage point. With the likes of The Once, The Dardanelles, Doyle and Stockwood’s father Leslie Stockwood lending a hand —not to mention a slew of great writers going back centuries— authenticity is uncompromised. Yet Stockwood and producer Glen Tilley create a contemporary sensibility in arrangements and approach.

There are many more great songs in the canon of Newfoundland songs than could fit on a single album. But back to the water has every claim to being a representative sample of that superb songbook.

Kudos, Kim Stockwood! A respectful, articulate and often joyful series of interpretations, back to the water is great stuff.

 

 

 

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