I'm standing at a window; I'm pressed against the past;
I'm looking on in black and white through the eyes of photographs.
Stephen Fearing, "The Longest Road"
April 2006 - It has been 20 years since songsmith Stephen Fearing
released his self-titled debut. Over the following two decades, he has built
up a very loyal and committed international audience, one sure to be delighted
by his beautiful new recording.
"Yellowjacket" is Fearing's eighth solo album and
as always it features a potent combination of powerful and affecting lyrics,
pure vocals and masterful musicianship. "Yellowjacket" also marks
something of a breakthrough in Stephen's approach to recording as he assumes
the mantle of producer for the first time since his early albums. The result
is a relaxed fluency vocal and guitar work and a unique sonic palette, which
make this album distinctly different, again, from his previous releases.
Over the course of his career, Fearing has been able to learn
from some of roots music's finest producers. English folk star Clive Gregson
(Any Trouble, Gregson and Collister) produced his acclaimed 1989 album, "Blue
Line"; Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) was on hand for 1994's "The Assassins
Apprentice" (a disc featuring fans Sarah McLachlan and Richard Thompson),
whilst Stephen's close friend Colin Linden
manned the console for 1997's "Industrial Lullaby", 2000's "So
Many Miles - LIVE" and 2002's "That's How I Walk" (which Fearing
To record "Yellowjacket", Stephen set up shop in
the Guelph studio of noted musician / producer, Scott Merritt (Fred Eaglesmith),
who engineered and mixed the sessions. Together, they have crafted a richly
diverse collection of songs. These range from a rollicking guitar "march"
that could have been written by John Phillip Sousa and Dr. Seuss ("Whoville"),
to intricately arranged pieces featuring strings and female backing vocals ("Yellowjacket",
"Like Every Other Morning"), poignant ballads suffused with Salvation
Army-style horns ("Johnny's Lament", "Love Only Knows")
to full band workouts reminiscent of Blackie and The Rodeo Kings ("One
This diversity also reflects changes in Fearing's perspective
on songwriting, and his ongoing experimentation with co-writing. "Writing
songs with another person allows you to be a little more objective, a little
less critical and a lot more productive and surprisingly, I've found that it
really informs the material I write on my own". "Collaborating opens
up a whole other vista, it's like taking a walk outside of my own stuffy little
Fearing's songwriting partner on four of the songs in this
collection, is Josh Finlayson, from much-loved roots-rockers The Skydiggers.
After one brief phone call they met at Fearing's home and immediately tapped
into a rich creative connection, trading lyrics and melodies in an instantly
productive "crazy rush of ideas". This rapport is vividly illustrated
on "Love Only Knows", a tender portrait of a parent coming to terms
with a child's burgeoning maturity - "Love only knows what happens now,
Yesterday turns under the plough, Only a fool would not allow You to stand on
"Yellowjacket" - front cover |
Yellowjacket's title song is a co-write with Stephen's close
creative comrade, Tom Wilson. Spawned
during a long drive in the rain from Nashville back to Ontario, a trek fuelled
by 'yellow jacket' caffeine pills, it depicts a restless soul out there "following
the big beat". The protagonist is one of those young Jam-band disciples,
a Deadhead perhaps, escaping some decaying Midwestern town and running out of
As is customary on Fearing's records, the supporting musical
cast is of the highest order. The list includes Dan Whiteley (Heartbreak Hill),
Jeff Bird (Cowboy Junkies), backing vocalist Suzie Vinnick, Josh Finlayson,
and Stephen's B&RK bandmates, Colin
Linden, Gary Craig, John Dymond and Richard Bell.
The consistent quality of work produced over Stephen Fearing's
two decades plus career has earned him a West Coast Music Award for Best Folk
Music Recording and five Juno Award nominations as a solo artist and a faithful
international fan base.
Born in 1963 in Vancouver, he spent most of his boyhood and
teenage years in Dublin. There, he picked up the guitar and traces of the Irish
and English musical traditions that have informed his music ever since. After
a short stint in the U.S. Midwest, he returned to Canada, and is now long-established
as a regular and popular fixture on the folk club and festival circuit in North
America and the U.K. Successful appearances at the prestigious WOMAD and Reading
Festivals in the U.K. confirmed Fearing's ability to engage large audiences
with his onstage charm.
Like most contemporary songwriter / performers, Stephen is
not bound by any particular musical genre or category and the release of "Yellowjacket"
continues this exploration of various musical forms, as does his continued participation
in the highly successful Canadian roots rock super trio, Blackie & The Rodeo
Kings. Over the past decade, B&RK have released three highly praised and
award-winning albums including a Juno Award for their most recent release "BARK".
"It's wonderful to be able to work as a solo artist and to be active in
such a powerful ensemble as The Rodeo Kings. These guys are my friends and there
is no doubt in my mind that my continuing work with them influences my solo
playing very deeply".
With two more Blackie records on the near-horizon plus an ongoing
collaboration with Irish singer / songwriter Andy White, Stephen has never been
more prolific. In his own words, "'Yellowjacket' feels like a new beginning."