Don’t let the title fool you. The folk music forecast just got brighter and livelier with the release of “The Wind of Death” from Canadian acoustic quartet Samways.
The second single to drop ahead of the group’s forthcoming debut album, the song juxtaposes a muscular, driving rhythm and sunny vocal harmonies with the moving poem, “The Wind of Death.” Written by Canadian poet and journalist Ethelwyn Wetherald well over a century ago, the poem touches on the tenuous and reflective last moments of someone’s life.
The wind of death, that softly blows
The last warm petal from the rose
The last dry leaf from off the tree
Tonight, has come to breathe on me
The creative core of Samways consists of lead songwriter, guitarist and composer Nathan Hiltz and the vocal trio of Shannon Butcher, Jessica Lalonde and Melissa Lauren, all known and loved Toronto-based artists in their own rights.
As they succinctly put it, they create and perform “acoustic music with lyrics drawn from early Canadian poetry.”
What kinds of acoustic music and poetry? Original folk inspired jazz and the 19th and early 20th century works of famed Canadian poets such as Bliss Carman, Susannah Moodie, E.J. Pratt, Agnes Maule Machar and of course, Ethelwyn Wetherald.
The music for “The Wind of Death” also comes from a mash-up of different worlds.
The song answers a question: What would it sound like if Sonny Greenwich joined the Gordon Lightfoot band? Greenwich, a top jazz guitarist from Montréal with a psychedelic, Coltrane-influenced style, and Canadian folk legend Lightfoot, are both big inspirations for Nathan.
While in his 20s, he was a jazz purist working at Toronto’s Ring Music, and Lightfoot used to come around to the shop.
“I absolutely knew who [Lightfoot] was but had no idea what he sounded like,” Nathan explained. “All I remember is this badass who parked his big, old-man Cadillac in the no parking zone out front of the store.
“He came in and said ‘I’m Gordon Lightfoot. I’m here to pick up my guitar.’”
Those moments stuck with Nathan and years later, as his musical tastes opened up, he devoured Lightfoot’s entire discography, citing his beautiful music as a driving force in the creation of Samways.
Unlike the group’s first single, “Untrodden Ways,” “The Wind of Death” is more akin to Lightfoot’s “Summer Side of Life” than “Long River.” Now, replace Lightfoot with three powerful female singers and you have Samways’ signature and fully-satisfying sound.
Samways has delighted audiences with their captivating performances at notable, pre-pandemic live showcases such as the Toronto Reference Library’s Winter Concert Series and the Markham Jazz Festival; their homegrown popularity has already risen enough to land the band a recording grant from the Toronto Arts Council.