It occurred to me not too long ago that it had been quite a while since I randomly picked an older CD out of the collection at home, and spend some time rediscovering it during my daily commute. In my defense, with plenty of new material being covered here at GDW lately, there are only so many hours in a day (and all that). But, no excuses – sometimes it is good to find that blast from the past, let it spin in the player for a few days, and see how it fares now that every album can potentially become an inspiration to put a few words to paper. So with a quick sifting of albums last week, it would be Chris Velan’s 2011 “Fables For Fighters” that won this particular lottery.
I recall first encountering the music of Chris Velan during the release of his 2013 “The Long Goodbye” single, heard on satellite radio here in the US thanks to one of the CBC stations. With the immediate follow up single “Did We Ever Have A Chance” receiving equally heavy airplay, Chris had quickly earned my attention with two incredible releases. Shortly afterwards, however, it seemed that his presence disappeared on these stations just as quickly as it arrived, and with so much else being offered, Chris Velan was quickly relegated to a proverbial ‘file for later’ category. It would be purely coincidental, therefore, that I happened to stumble across a sealed copy of “Fables For Fighters” in a small Maryland town (of all places to find a little known Canadian artist, right?), prompting fond memories of those later singles, and reminding me to check his music out.
Having played “Fables For Fighters” for the best part of a week during those drives to and from the office, it has been incredibly difficult to eject this one from the player and focus on putting these thoughts down. Difficult, because this one really got under my skin in a short space of time, with some catchy original tunes, lyrical hooks, great instrumentation and a general ‘feel-good’ factor that leads to the ‘repeat’ button becoming too good of a new best buddy. I must confess that it took a couple of spins before I tuned into this groove here, but once discovered, it quickly consumed my listening pleasures. And did I mention that it took sheer willpower to finally remove this one from the car tonight? Okay, you get it…
Comprised of eleven originally penned tunes, Chris delivers an incredibly upbeat collection of music across the entire album. Indeed, both “You Owe Nothing” and “Far From Here” are the only two slower numbers offered here. “Far From Here” boasts some wonderful instrumentation to really set the tone, before yielding to the cries of a deeply moving guitar solo; a solo that leads Chris to draw you into his world with the softly narrated lines, “While searching for the chorus / I almost crashed the van in Amarillo / Been caught between the verses / Gone days without uttering a word.” You may not find such intimacy with the up-tempo numbers, but will be whisked away on that feel-good journey when encountering the lively “Oceans Ago” and “Scatterbrain.” And lest I forget the very catchy melodies found during “There Goes Sara,” where Chris delights once more with lyrics such as, “She was raised by wolves / She has the saddest eyes / And she will cut you down to size / She’s got a thing for Italian guys / But says she prefers me.”
I am aware that I have made more than a fleeting reference to the wonderful instrumentation already. But go ahead and look at the list of instruments from the album credits, and you will see how easily each track is given a unique identity due in part to the diversity of instrumentation on offer. Return to “You Owe Nothing” for that splash of mandolin; skip to “Scatterbrain” for some well placed melodica, and finish with “You’re On Your Own Now,” to sample those uncredited pan-pipes (are they really synthesized effects? Absolute amazing and convincing, if so). Now go ahead and return to the opening track, “Any Number Of Ways,” where the up-beat tempo paired with some great ukelele and warm backing harmonies from Sara Johnston makes this one a true toe-tapper. This song quickly established itself as my go-to track on the album, thus rendering my inability to eject this one from the player due to the knowledge that another spin means getting to hear this one once more.
Have you ever experienced a sensation from a specific moment in a song that seems impossible to explain? For me, there is a moment during “Any Number Of Ways” that never fails to put a smile on my face. The psychological anticipation builds when hearing the lines, “The sun rose and we sat awhile / I kissed your sad, sad smile / Before I could say the words / You turned into a flock of birds.” On the edge of my seat at this point, all it takes is a quick infusion of some snare drum raps to precede the lines, “Feathered fury beating away,” and I’m beaming. Why, I really don’t know – but does such a feel-good moment need an explanation? Maybe I’ve spent too many hours mesmerized by the different assortment of birds that habitually return to our feeder each spring, enjoying their exploits. Maybe watching those hatchlings flap their wings in excitement when being mouth-fed that fresh seed, or in partial fear when sizing up the potential fall when taking that first leap of faith and flapping away. Again, nothing that necessitates an explanation; just something that resonates personally with me.
“Fables For Fighters” has been a very enjoyable soundtrack over the last week. It may not win points for style or diversity, but Chris Velan will definitely put a smile on your face with many of his compositions here. If you are unfamiliar with his music, this is certainly a great place to start. So good ahead, indulge yourself, and smile too at thoughts of “Feathered fury beating away.”