In an era of ever-increasing sonic cross-pollination and general weirdness, Samson is one of scant few songwriters who are more appreciated for their lyrics than anything else. Which is kind of another way of saying that even the most acclaimed indie musicians today tend to be weakest at crafting their words. Over the course of four Weakerthans albums, Samson has encountered no such difficulty, deftly navigating the rocky channel that travels between the shores of the everyman and the hyper-literate. As for their music, however, it's only fair to say that while melodically sound and technically brilliant (Jason Tait is oft-referred to as the smoothest drummer in Canadian rock), the Weakerthans were never much for innovation.
It's perhaps a bit of a naive wish, then, to hope for a sonic facelift to accompany Samson's first widely released solo album, Provincial. Like most solo releases by the singer/songwriter of a straight-up rock band, this album is pretty much everything our man does in his day job, only turned down to 7 (rather than up to 11, I suppose...). Of course, when we all know that the main attraction will likely be the words, this is hardly a bad thing. And so, despite being a tad samey-sounding, this record is beautifully and attentively written. Even when being so red-flag intellectual as to reference a master's thesis and a website URL in his song titles, Samson never forgets to root his tales in human experience and details—and so grand plights of forgotten towns and a province in fading fortunes are told through minute moments of busted cars, awkward romances and, of course, hockey. In doing so, he once again proves himself as the rare kind of musician who can seamlessly weave threads of politics, sports, domestic life, and punk clubs into a complete and whole tapestry. It's an unassuming little trick, but no matter how many times Samson does it, it never ceases to gently amaze. The guy really is something.
That said, the extra ballast his Weakerthans chums bring to his tunes is at times missed. "Cruise Night" is a tepid counterpart to such out-and-out great pop songs as "Watermark" or "The Reasons," and I can't help but wonder how the sense of drama that so enlivened "Pamphleteer" would sound behind a track like "The Last And." But overall, Samson wears the solo artist tag very comfortably indeed—if it seems too much so on first listen, give it time. Whatever Provincial lacks in audio thrills, it makes up for with a depth of storytelling and observation that few peers appear to have the time (or skill) to bother with these days.