Stephen Fearing – The Unconquerable Past

Album Review | Fish Records | Review by Steve Henderson

One of the most endearing features of the best singer songwriters is their ability to not only weave words into a rich tapestry of lyrics but also to do this creatively in a variety of musical styles. Such artistic maturity is to the fore with Stephen Fearing’s latest release, The Unconquerable Past. Produced by Fearing alongside Scott Nolan (Mary Gauthier, Hayes Carll), this is the Canadian’s 13th solo album in amongst his outings with Blackie and The Rodeo Kings.

The album adopts a range of stylistic approaches with the gentle folk flavouring of “Marie” following a rocking “Stay With Me” (no, not The Faces’ classic song of times gone by). That’s followed by a bluesy “Someone Else’s Shoes” before we later land at the doors of “Christine” and its rockabilly beat. Broadly falling into the areas that join Folk and Americana together, this mix will appeal to listeners who enjoy the variety though some may lean more towards certain approaches over others.

The songs themselves are mainly from the pen of Fearing though he collaborates with Tom Wilson of Blackie and The Rodeo Kings on “Broke Our Mother’s Heart” and with Belfast’s Andy White on “Emigrant Song”. He also closes the record with “No Country” written by his multi-instrumentalist and producing compadre, Scott Nolan. As you may notice from their titles, the suggested subject matter of the songs is as varied as the musical approach. What draws them together is Fearing’s sharp eyed observations of both personal past (maternal love, empathy leading to affection and pure passion itself) and universal present (transgender, the arrival of the immigrant and populist politics). The album’s title track alluding to one of the key lessons to be learnt from this temporal perspective to life in that history has a habit of repeating itself.

Following up on 2017’s superlative Every Soul’s A Sailor was never going to be an easy task and there may not be quite the same consistency of style and quality on The Unconquerable Past. Nevertheless, there’s much to admire in terms of the maturity in the songwriting of this multi Juno Award winning musician and The Unconquerable Past makes for a fine addition to Stephen Fearing’s catalogue of recordings.

Choice Track: “Break Our Mother’s Heart” (NSV 493)