This excellent Canadian Folk band are touring Europe at present and quietly slipped into Dublin with little media fanfare to play new tunes from their sixth official release.
They were here a few years back (2009) when they played to an enthusiastic audience and this time around the crowd is much smaller but no less welcoming as the band work through the set list on the night.
The creative source of Great Lake Swimmers is singer/songwriter Tony Dekker who arranges most of the songs and plays acoustic guitar onstage. He possesses an angelic voice, so clear and pure in delivery, which adds a very spiritual quality to the overall sound of the band.
The greater part of the gig concentrates on the new release, A Forest of Arms, which builds on the previous success of the band's critically acclaimed catalogue. We also hear songs from previous albums including the eponymous 2003 debut, together with Ongiara, New Wild Everywhere and Lost Channels.
Dekker's solo project, Prayer of the Woods, is also included with the song Somewhere Near Thunder Bay and the evening passes in a quiet sense of floating melody punctuated occasionally by the dynamic fiddle playing of Miranda Mulholland, an accomplished musician who also contributes greatly on harmony vocals.
The environment features heavily as a key influence in the writing of Dekker and he is passionate about conservation and protection of the natural world. Also key to the reflective sound is the communication between people and how we relate to each other as fellow travellers on the planet.
Song titles such as Your Rocky Spine, Put There By The Land, Great Bear, The Great Exhale, Zero in the City, A Bird Flew Inside The House and Something Like a Storm give a sense of impact between the pulse of nature and our lives in cities that have such disconnect with others, as well as the forces that govern our daily existence.
The rhythm section (Joshua Van Tassel on drums and Bret Higgins on upright bass) anchor the songs with a solid foundation from which to expand while the guitar and banjo playing of Erik Arnesen adds plenty of subtle colour to the melodies. However, it is the understated presence of Dekker and that refined vocal together with the excellent contributions of Miranda Mulholland that give Great Lake Swimmers their gentle yet strong sound.
A very pleasant surprise on the night was the support act of Meg Baird and her eight song set which drew mainly from her third solo release Don't Weigh Down the Light. Since her days with the Espers, Meg has blossomed into a career that has seen collaborations with other artists and a new musical project called Heron Oblivion. Her beautiful voice and sensitive guitar playing are a perfect example of the power in understated delivery.
She has an ethereal quality to her vocal that reminds me of Clannad's Moyà Brennan, both haunting and plaintive. Her set was hypnotic and inspiring with great guitar accompaniment from Charlie Saufley who added an electric layer to the soft finger picking style of Meg Baird. A cover version of the Crazy Horse song I Don't Want to Talk About It was particularly arresting and knocks any other version to the kerb. A fine performance and all too short!
Review and photograph by Paul McGee