Stranger at the Wake Press Round-Up • 05.31.13
Al Tuck Preps ‘Stranger at the Wake’
by: Alex Hudson
Al Tuck‘s discography spans almost 20 years, and his first album, Arhoolie, came out way back in 1994. This spring, the veteran Atlantic Canadian songwriter will add another disc to his venerable catalogue with Stranger at the Wake, due out May 14 on Cameron House Records.
The album is said to be a stylistically diverse collection that finds the songwriter branching out while at times channelling his classic sound. A press release notes, “A cappella gospel, wordy funk, stonesy rock’n'roll, epic country, Irishish folk, heart-tugging ballads, clairvoyant jazz — it’s all here, held together by an unseen unifying strand, which just might be the truth itself.”
Scroll past the tracklist below to stream the husky album cut “Five-O” and the Velvets-style blues number “Paid in the Middle of the Night.”
Tuck said in a statement, “My last three records are absolutely going to stand. If you don’t get them now, I hope you will soon. But by then it may be too late.”
Tuck will launch the album with a release party at Toronto’s Dakota Tavern on May 11.
Al Tuck – Stranger at the Wake
by: Vish Khanna
“There is a God, children,” Al Tuck intones in a segmented, a cappella pronouncement that recurs throughout his wildest album ever. It’s a measure of his faith that many “There is a God” verses are inspired by his good fortune: a lover moves across country for him; a car’s runaway wheel narrowly misses striking him down. We’re also lucky that his recent prolific streak is yielding his most astounding work. Featuring Tuck’s reconfigured No Action band, this LP is his most fleshed-out rock effort in some time and songs like “Five-O” and “We Didn’t Dance” are spellbinding. The title track is a compelling first-person narrative: Tuck getting drunk alone at the wake of someone he never knew, her life flashing before him via a projection of her abandoned Facebook page. One of many lyrical leaps on the record, it’s a wry confessional clipping along at the limping, stoned pace of Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna” and one of Tuck’s finest songs. The whole LP is brilliant; this is Al Tuck at his most daring, in full command, and transcendent. Amen.
Al Tuck and No Action Stranger At The Wake
by: Carla Gillis
Bluesy, druggy and loose, punctuated by a cappella spirituals. That pretty much sums up Al Tuck’s excellent seventh album. His singing has always been endearingly meandering – something he’s embracing here – and long-time fans will recognize his phrasing and melodies, particularly on the stunning first-person-POV title track set at a funeral.
In these overproduced times, it’s amazing the freshness an unfussy album can bring. The recently prolific Halifax singer/songwriter, one of Canada’s finest, overdoes it a bit with effects early on, though they bring a cool experimentalism to tunes centred on slow, stream-of-conscious narratives indebted to Bob Dylan and Hank Williams. Tuck’s resurrected his No Action band, who play minimally and with subtlety.
There are several standout woozy ballads, several rollicking, off-the-rails Stonesish rockers. That Married Life has a Celtic feel thanks to a pan flute. The album’s varied, accomplished and tossed-off like it’s the easiest thing.
Top track: Stranger At The Wake
Al Tuck — Stranger At The Wake
by: Lee Fraser
Al Tuck, the inimitable story-teller, releases seventh album on Cameron House Records
Settle in. It’s going to be a good ride. Al Tuck, with his odd, straggly voice and sparse arrangements, has reached into what surely must be a massive chest of creations and put together an album that reveals the fascinating mind of a genius in our midst. Every song tells a story that somehow manages to be very straight-forward, yet full of cryptic images and puzzling observations. It is political, it’s spiritual and at times, it seems awfully personal.
The album is book-ended by several verses each of a song titled “There Is A God”, with just a few songs between them. Each part of “There Is A God” reveals a different spiritual aspect: criticism, discovery, temptation and acceptance. All four parts of the song are sung a cappella and recorded in a chapel in PEI. The final part, after ending with an angelic “Amen”, has 30 seconds of silence, giving you the chance to mull things over as the record comes to an end.
The first track after the first part of “There Is A God” is the trippy jazzed up song “There Is A War”. The war is on all things natural and good, and Tuck rambles through, in spoken word, all sorts of examples of good things and things we should stop. There are references to Buck 65, Charlie Mingus and Snowmageddon. It’s followed by “Five-O”, perhaps the most catchy song on the album with a bit of a surf rock feel. Even listening to it the first time, you’re singing along and listening intently to the story of a convicted criminal.
The title track is more than 10 minutes long, but again, it’s the story-telling that holds your attention. Whose wake is it? Why is he there? Guitar, fiddle and piano back up Tuck’s conversational singing as the song shuffles along
The mid-section of the album is comprised of more stories and more genres. There’s a Celtic piece about married life. “Let It Go (Over Yonder)” is a 50’s style rock tune that is possibly the most vague on the album, lyrically. “Paid In The Middle Of The Night” has a bluesy rock vibe and fun sing-along choruses.
The album closes with a couple of covers. “Walking By The River” is a languishing, swaying cover of a hit from 1941. Aptly leading into the final section of “There Is A God”, “Be Ready When He Comes” is an obscure B-side by one of the original Delta bluesmen, Skip James. Tuck adds his own accents with sax and a distinct metered time signature.
Although the first impressions of this album may be the messages and the variety of musical styles, the longevity of this album will be its story-telling. Every time you listen, you stumble upon a lyric that impresses. One of my personal favourites is “I can’t believe it’s just coincidence these incidents that coincide.” There are stories told in each song, and there’s a greater story arching over the breadth of the album, as well. Al Tuck is a fascinating man and we’re fortunate he is sharing these pieces of himself with us.
An artist’s success can’t always be measured in record sales. Sometimes it’s the esteem of other musicians that’s a mark of success. That’s definitely the case with East Coast singer/songwriter Al Tuck. Laurels have been heaped upon him by his fellow musicians as he prepares to release his seventh album, Stranger At the Wake, on May 14th.
The album is really built on two pillars. The first is the acapella “There Is a God”. Broken into four parts and spread across the record, the song is a moving scratchy-throated hymnal.
The second pillar is the title track. Clocking in at almost ten-and-a-half minutes, the chilling “Stranger At the Wake” manages to do what the vast majority of folk song half it’s length fail to do: it never wears out its welcome, with Tuck having you hanging on his every word.
With those firmly established, Tuck has the freedom to let his musical stylings wander a bit. A romantic starlit lounge vibe comes in on tracks like “Walking By the River”, “We Didn’t Dance”, and the piano jiver “Let It Go (Over Yonder)”.
A delayed echo-effect on the vocals makes for an intriguing twist on the jazzy “There Is A War”. The laid back luau of “Five-O” makes for a bit of an awkward ditty. The same can’t be said for the celtic-tinged “That Married Life”.
Of course, Tuck is a roots musician at heart, so the record wouldn’t be complete without some of those touches. ”Asylum Square” is a mix of twang and Classic Rock. The piano is busted out for the saloon stomp of “Paid In the Middle of the Night”. On “Two Muses Unopposed”, Tuck’s vocal delivery shares both rasp and gravitas with Leonard Cohen.
Tuck has managed a pretty good balance here. He has enough ‘safe’ numbers to ensure that nobody will freak out over his hit-and-miss (although admirable) dalliances. This is another Al Tuck album that you need to pick up.
May Music Preview: 15 Canadian Albums you need to hear in May
Al Tuck, ‘Five-O’
by: Mike Miner
This song is a slow groove more in line with the weird genius of Van Dyke Parks’ crime tune “G-Man Hoover” than the bombast of the TV show theme that might spring to mind. Al Tuck is something of a cult figure in Canada. While not widely known, pretty much every Canadian musician is a huge fan. Take in one of his shows and you could easily see Feist, Joel Plaskett or Jason Collett in the audience.
Tuck’s Stranger at the Wake is out May 14 from Cameron House Records.
Al Tuck – Five Things to do in Toronto
by: Brad Wheeler
Please don’t describe him as underrated. Because he’s rated, all right. Leslie Feist calls him a living legend. Jason Collett calls him the greatest songwriter of his generation. And Paul Simon might call him Al, if they ever were to meet. Al Tuck, an observer and wry troubadour too hip for this world, celebrates his seventh album, Stranger at the Wake, this weekend. Time to get acquainted, don’t you think?
(The Globe and Mail)
Stranger at the Wake Review
He may never have come close to commercial success, but veteran roots troubadour Al Tuck has long earned real peer respect (Feist calls him a living legend) and love from music critics. He’s already grabbing well-deserved rave reviews for this freewheeling new outing, his seventh studio album. Tuck has a laconic vocal drawl best showcased on the rambling narrative of the 10 minute-plus title cut and the shuffling “Paid In The Middle Of The Night”. He is typically offbeat on “There Is A War”, a tune a mite reminiscent of his pal Buck 65.
(New Canadian Music)
Listen Up: Al Tuck
by: Bryan Acker
Yesterday, I traded emails with Chris Eaton regarding a snippet of his next novel. The chapter was touching and heartfelt, but the sentence that caught my eye was a simple ask. He wondered what happened to straight forward, workmanlike prose, where are the words that were simply content to do their job?
That humble description fits Al Tuck’slatest record nicely. Tuck uses the the new No Action band to great success, but the genius is delivered through his pen. It’s awfully hard to not throw out some sort of Dylan comparison, but the way Tuck blurs the line between the character he’s created and the character he is, is as magical as it is mystical.
Tuck masterfully hides religious metaphors, literary references and poignant philosophy in deceivingly simple language. Stranger at the Wake is a sermon of sorts, but Tuck’s accessibility never comes off as preachy. These songs – a mix of folk, a Capella, spiritual awakenings, and horn laden uptempo numbers – are a remarkable character study laced with the events and burning questions that fill Tuck’s thoughts.
I can’t continue to wonder why Tuck’s stage presence can’t ever align with his talent, but as I move further and further away from live music, I am less concerned. These songs, like most in Tuck’s canon, challenge me to dig deeper and ask more questions. They are beautiful; much like a room left bare aside from the well spaced and vital flourishes. They are given room to breath, and as a result, we all exhale deeply.
Stranger at the Wake Review
by: Ken Kelley
It took what seemed like an eternity for Maritime songwriting treasure Al Tuck to come back into the spotlight but not even 18 months after the release his last record, Tuck returns with the ambitious Stranger At The Wake. There Is A War and Five-O show a darker side of the singer-songwriter but regardless of musical pursuit (of which there are many here), Tuck’s tales are ultimately nothing short of compelling. This album is arguably one of Tuck’s most musically adventurous efforts with his baritone voice only getting better with age.
(Music Nerd Chronicles)
Al Tuck & No Action: Stranger at the Wake
by: Lenny Stoute
For this seventh album, Halifax singer/songwriter Al Tuck reunites his No Action band and it’s way to the good. For those unacquainted, Tuck strip mines for rich song writing gold in a dramatic region somewhere between Dylan, Tom Waits and Steve Earle. And like all of these gents, comes at things in a manner quite his own.
Likewise, he’s not to be hurried in getting to the payoff(s) in his songs. The title track takes better than 10 minutes to lay out its tale which ends up raising more questions than are answered. Whose wake is it? Why is our man there? Why does he remain detached from the central drama?
As with the bulk of his work, the production is minimalist, working only to focus on the essence of the song, with tasteful coloration from piano, guitar and fiddle.
The album has a Gospel motif woven throughout in a song called “There Is A God” which pops in for a few verses every now again like some dustbowl Greek chorus. Sung acapella, it was reportedly recorded in a chapel in PEI, standing in sharp contrast to the bouncy, upbeat “Five-O”, which carries in its lyric the tale of an unrepentant criminal.
The ever-quirky Tuck sees fit to close out the album with a pair of vintage blues covers, the reflective slow burner “Walking By The River” and a sax-punctuated swing at Skip James’ “Be Ready When He Comes”, both of which fit very neatly both with the album’s bluesy and spiritual subtexts, making for a varied and entertaining listen top to bottom.
#1 National Folk/Roots/Blues Chart – Earshot