Christine Fellows, Paper Anniversary, Six Shooter Records (2005)

by Stephanie Duncan

Summer in Winnipeg is really something else. Everyone gets out to the various festivals. You are instilled with a distinct sense of community just sitting on a patio drinking a beer. Everyone emerges blurry eyed, staring widely at too much green, so much warmth. This lasts for roughly two months or so before autumn sets in. Then comes winter. Eight months of grey skies, abysmal temperatures and above all, absolute boredom. More than a season, it’s a condition of the spirit. It brings out the tenacity of the residents of this prairie home, their determination to make something with the city they label home. Some jump ship when they can, opting out for Toronto or maybe Vancouver. Telling themselves that “It’ll be better out West”. You never really lose that hardiness from Winter in Winnipeg, you’ll never lose that fragility either.

‘Paper Anniversary’ is Christine Fellows third full length album and it manages to evoke all of this. I suppose I should mention now that I am one of the ship jumpers. I grew up in Winnipeg, I struggled through that dismal winter and watched as artists like Christine Fellows and her brethren blossomed throughout it. Anything to keep warm, to keep occupied, to express and create. I won’t deny I’m biased, even though I decided things would be better out West. The music scene is undeniably fabulous though, whether or not I say so.

Fellows’ songs sound like letters home, like novels waiting to happen. The strains of cello, the lively piano and her distinct voice. More than distinct, it’s a voice to come home to. Something to fall asleep to. Soothing, cozy, familiar. The field recordings interjected here and there are less to make the tracks standout as odd but serve to add a heightened sense of familiarity. Things you would ordinarily hear are taken out of context beautifully. Most comforting is the purring of a cat serving as the bottom line for “How to Dissect a Ground Owl”.

The use of percussion is tenuous and sweet. Fellows’ backing band is comprised entirely of longtime collaborators and husband, John K Samson (The Weakerthans). People she’s played and recorded with in year past. The closeness and intimacy is easy to pick up on. At times, it seems like they just grabbed whatever they could find to fill in the blanks on her wonderful little love letters to the listener. Anything from wineglasses to strings to an accordion will do! Just hurry up, get over here, we’ve got music to make!

My only complaint seems trivial but it does seem a bit short. Like you’re left wanting for more, more, MORE! It took me a few months to actually sit down and listen to it and I feel like I’ve missed out. It’s an album that deserves multiple listening, examinations of all the quirks and beauty that present themselves for you. It’s a release that long overdue for it’s share of reviews. It’s a damn shame how little publicity this got outside of Winnipeg or Canada. It’s an album to be shared, a soundtrack to celebrate all of the wonders and hardships. To ultimately serve as a remainder that, yes, we are fragile but damnit, look at how strong we can be.

March 2006