“I feel as if I’m writing myself into other people’s lives.”
Multi-JUNO Award winner and co-founder of Blackie and The Rodeo Kings, Stephen Fearing has been doing just that as one of Canada’s great musical storytellers — not to mention one of its most acclaimed guitarists — since the 1980s. His 13th solo album adds another unique chapter to that impressive body of work. It’s also a striking and often surprising example of his restless creative spirit.
While fans of his solo work may be more familiar with Fearing’s acoustic side, The Unconquerable Past finds him stepping back into the wide-screen world of layered instruments and arrangements. In collaboration with Winnipeg-based producer/songwriter Scott Nolan (William Prince, Mary Gauthier, Hayes Carll) and a superb group of players featuring acclaimed pianist Jeremy Rusu, bassist Julian Bradford, drummer Christian Dugas, vocalist Andrina Turrene, and Nashville’s legendary multi-instrumentalist Jim Hoke.
Like other artists who are loosely categorized as ‘folk’ or ‘Americana’, Fearing questions what those terms really mean. The Unconquerable Past embraces and transcends the labels and genres simultaneously. “I’m always intrigued by unknown territory, and pushing myself out of my comfort zone,” he says. “I wanted to lean into a specific sound, but in a simple way, with a palette of sounds and instruments drawn primarily from Country-Americana and Roots music and with frequent, deliberate glances over my shoulder to the golden era of analog recording.”
The album is a reflection on both where he is in life and where society and the planet are right now. “Sometimes a lyric fragment or title can open so many doors in a writer’s mind,” Fearing explains. “The Unconquerable Past became the title song and set the stage for most of the other tunes. My interpretation goes far beyond the often misquoted phrase – Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Fearing pulls no punches on songs such as Marie, chastising those hiding behind “tinfoil hat religion” and “dark conspiracies,” while Sunny explores courage and love in the story of a transgender person and their relationship with a heterosexual man. Someone Else’s Shoes, a deceptively smooth track, takes things from the personal to the universal, exploring themes of empathy, understanding, and tolerance.
Another of the album’s highlights is Emigrant Song, a 2012 co-write with Belfast troubadour Andy White. It mirrors Fearing’s own life in some respects; born in Vancouver, he was raised primarily in Dublin, Ireland and returned to Canada in his late teens. After periods living in Guelph, Ontario and Halifax, Nova Scotia, Fearing now calls Victoria, British Columbia home. His may not be the typical emigrant story, but the song beautifully illustrates Fearing’s empathy toward anyone arriving in a distant place with hopes of starting a new life.
With The Unconquerable Past, Stephen Fearing steps out once again with a fresh perspective and a new batch of songs, drawing deeply from over thirty years of writing and playing across Canada and around the world.
- Break Our Mother’s Heart ** (4:08)
- Gold on the River (3:59)
- Stay With Me (2:48)
- Marie (4:40)
- Someone Else’s Shoes (2:58)
- The Unconquerable Past (4:43)
- Sunny (4:07)
- Christine (2:58)
- Emigrant Song *** (4:02)
- No Country * (2:19)
All songs written by Stephen Fearing (Fearing and Loathing Music) except:
* Scott Nolan (Langrud Music)
** Tom Wilson (Sony ATV – Thomas Cunningham Wilson Music) / Stephen Fearing (Fearing and Loathing Music)
*** Andy White (Mushroom Music) / Stephen Fearing (Fearing and Loathing Music)
Producers: Stephen Fearing and Scott Nolan
Executive Producer: Jennifer Johnston
Recording Engineer: Jamie Sitar at The Song Shop, Winnipeg
Mix / Mastering Engineer: Jamie Sitar at Outta Town Sound, Winnipeg
Released by: Fearing and Loathing Music (Canada) / Fish Records (UK & Europe)
Stephen Fearing – Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Backwards Piano, BG Vocals
Scott Nolan – Wurlitzer, Electric Guitar, Vibraphone, Fender Rhodes Electric Tenor Guitar, Harmonica, BG Vocals
Christian Dugas – Drums and Percussion, BG Vocals
Julian Bradford – Electric and Upright Bass
Jeremy Rusu – Piano, Fender Rhodes
Jim Hoke – B3 Organ, Pedal Steel, Harmonica, Accordion, Tin Whistle
Andrina Turenne – Harmony Vocals, BG Vocals
The Rae and Jerry Singers – Special Guest Vocals on The Unconquerable Past