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The Graham Album Review #2090

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The Wilderness of Manitoba: Farewell to Cathedral
by George Graham

(Popguru Records, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 10/27/2021)

As someone with a long musical memory, I am intrigued that folk-rock seems to be making a comeback in a sort of post-alternative rock scene. More groups are appearing with acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies in a band setting, adding some twenty first century musical sensibility. Groups like Fleet Foxes and Darlingside have made worthwhile music that can span generations. In the case of Fleet Foxes, they have found a fair degree of popularity on the college radio scene.

This week we have a new release from such a folk rock band, the Wilderness of Manitoba, called Farewell to Cathedral.

From Toronto, Canada, the Wilderness of Manitoba formed in 2008 and have released five albums over the years. They have enjoyed a fair amount of popularity north of the border in Canada, and have toured worldwide, including playing Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD festival in the UK, and were nominated for a JUNO award, the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy, Their music has been used in some TV series, including “This Is Us” and “Elementary”. The personnel has varied, but the principal member, lead vocalist and songwriter is Will Whitwham. In addition to the Wilderness of Manitoba, Whitwham has also recorded under the rubric of Lake Forest.

Farewell to Cathedral is the first Wilderness of Manitoba album in three years, and marks yet another personnel change. But the band’s musical texture remains similar, melodic folk-influenced rock and pop in a somewhat atmospheric band context. The current lineup includes bassist Tavo Diaz de Bonilla, vocalist and acoustic guitarist Victoria Carr, and drummer Adam Balsam. Acoustic guitars are never far from the core of the band’s sound on the album, as are the folk-style vocals of Whitwham, with harmonies frequently featured, with band members, and with Whitwham sometimes overdubbed. The sound can get electric at times, but it usually maintains a kind of atmospheric quality. Many of the songs are in waltz time evoking old folkies from the 1960s. Song topics usually cover familiar ground on relationships, but they often to tend be impressionistic or perhaps allegorical.

Opening is a song called Oblivion that typifies the folk-rock sound of the album. The title is apparently a reference to a love that did not work out. <<>>

The melancholy undercurrent that is present for much of the album, dominates on the track called The Well Has Run Dry. The title is a reference to a drought and to the drying up of a relationship. It’s nicely done. <<>>

A good example of how the band builds on atmospheric textures, both musically and lyrically, is the track The Alchemist which evolves from intimate <<>> to very electric. <<>>

The Wilderness of Manitoba’s musical melancholia seems quite appropriate for The Ghost of Abilene, a breakup song. But in this case, the accompaniment has a more upbeat quality. <<>>

A track called Always (Violet Hour), is a more positive love song, lyrically but the minor key tune adds a bittersweet quality. <<>>

Another of the more appealing songs is In an Honest Way whose chorus contains the line “You lied in an honest way.” <<>>

Lost in Her Ocean is one of the most interesting pieces lyrically, with its allegorical words, set in a folky waltz. <<>>

The album ends with Furious Seasons not to be confused with the band of that name. It’s another bit of lyrical introspection by Whitwham and company. <<>>

Farewell to Cathedral the new fifth release by the Toronto band The Wilderness of Manitoba is an inviting album of atmospheric, often introspective folk rock, featuring the songs of Will Whitwham. The group creates a melodic blend with often intriguing lyrics, airy vocals and mellow instrumentation implying the folk music of the past with more contemporary alternative influences. I suppose it could be described as rainy-day music, but its charm is wide-ranging.

Our grade for sound quality is a B-plus. The sound is atmospheric and quite pleasant at times, but at others, the mix gets muddy and the clarity disappears. The dynamic range, how well the recording handles the loud-and-soft of the performance is not very good.

The Wilderness of Manitoba do a nice job with their amalgam of old-fashioned folk rock with a contemporary indie rock sensibility.

(c) Copyright 2021 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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This page last updated November 07, 2021