Don’t let the title fool you: The folk-rock soundscape just got a whole lot livelier with the release of Samways’ single The Wind of Death — showcasing today on Tinnitist.
The second preview of the Toronto group’s forthcoming debut album, the song juxtaposes a gently driving rhythm and sunny Laurel Canyon harmonies with Canadian poet and journalist Ethelwyn Wetherald’s moving century-old poem The Wind of Death, a rumination on the tenuous and reflective last moments of life.
Of course, that sort of combination is par for the course from Samways, the union of songwriter-guitarist Nathan Hiltz and the vocal trio of Shannon Butcher, Jessica Lalonde and Melissa Lauren. As they succinctly put it, they create and perform “acoustic music with lyrics drawn from early Canadian poetry.” Their specialty: Folk-inspired jazz coupled with 19th and early 20th century works by poets such as Bliss Carman, Susannah Moodie, E.J. Pratt, Agnes Maule Machar and Wetherald.
The music for The Wind of Death also answers includes a pair of different Canadian influences: Sonny Greenwich, an arch-top jazz guitarist from Montréal with a psychedelic, Coltrane-influenced style; and Canadian folk legend Gordon Lightfoot.
Both are big influences on Hiltz. In his 20s, the guitarist was a jazz purist working at Toronto’s Ring Music, and Lightfoot used to come around to the shop. “I absolutely knew who he was but had no idea what he sounded like,” Hiltz explains. “All I remember is this badass who parked his big, old-man Cadillac in the no-parking zone out front of the store.”
Years later, as Hiltz’s 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. Replace Lightfoot’s vocals with three powerful female singers and you have Samways’ satisfying signature sound.