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album review: Great Lake Swimmers – Ongiara

There’s a scene in Boogie Nights when William H. Macy reviews the activities for the day’s shoot with Burt Reynolds. Scanning the list of participants, Macy pauses. “Dirk…Diggler?” he asks, to which Reynolds responds something like, “That’s the new kid.” Macy nods enthusiastically and says quietly, but with considerable admiration, “great name.” As Wahlberg states in an earlier conversation with Reynolds, he wanted a “razor-sharp” tag, something that could “cut glass.” And for all his obvious intellectual lapses, the guy crushes the name game on the first try. It’s a killer title for his cocksman alter-ego – it’s compact, heavy and it implies action. Dirk Diggler becomes the king of what he does and his name is no small part of it. You close your eyes, hear “Dirk Diggler” and you know what to expect. It’s a seamless union of man and mission.

Great Lake Swimmers is the perfect name for the Canadian band led by Tony Dekker. It speaks of open spaces, majestic views, heroic feats and grand undertakings. At its heart however, the name suggests simplicity – people against a force of nature. From this competition of man against nature, the other elements flow. Their music follows a similar vein – it’s grand, it’s simple, it soars, it sinks. Ongiara, their third album, rarely finds GLS breaking past mid-tempo, like most of the songs on the first two albums. Listen to older tunes like “Moving Pictures, Silent Films,” from the debut and “Let’s Trade Skins”, from Bodies and Minds, and hear how these, like so many on the new album, unfold and develop slowly, moving in fragments, seemingly, until the end when you realize how perfectly the parts have fused together. The reverb from their first two offerings is tempered on Ongiara. Dekker’s vocals (they sound double-tracked in spots) float above the music, which contains a lot of banjo and strings. Like all great songwriters, when he feels something, you feel it too.

Reflective and moody, Ongiara takes you places and sits you on the wall to scan the action. Each track is written in the first-person and each explores common subjects – love, loss, family, heartbreak and acceptance. If you’re familiar with GLS, there’s nothing on Ongiara to surprise you, but it feels good knowing the ideas and the music still sound fresh.

As Dirk Diggler would say, these guys have the touch, they’ve got the power. Great name, too. (John Byrne)

Great Lake Swimmers – “I Am Part Of A Large Family” mp3 buy

Dirk Diggler – “You’ve Got The Touch” mp3 buy

Great Lake Swimmers tour dates:

June 5 Cambridge, MA; Middle East
June 6 New York, NY; Joe’s Pub
June 7 Arlington, VA; Iota
June 8 Philadelphia, PA; Tin Angel
June 9 Pittsburgh, PA; Garfield Artworks
June 10 Chapel Hill, NC; Local 506
June 11 Charleston, SC; The Map Room
June 12 Atlanta, GA; The EARL
June 13 Birmingham, AL; Bottletree Café
June 15 Houston, TX; Walter’s On Washington
June 16 Austin, TX; Emo’s
June 17 Dallas, TX; Bend Studio
June 19 Phoenix, AZ; Modified
June 20 Los Angeles, CA; Hotel Café
June 21 San Francisco, CA; Cafe du Nord
June 23 Seattle, WA; Tractor Tavern
June 24 Portland, OR; Holocene
June 26 Salt Lake City, UT; Kilby Court
June 27 Denver, CO; Hi-Dive
June 28 Omaha, NE; TBA
June 29 Madison, WI; Cafe Montmartre
June 30 Chicago, IL; Schuba’s
July 1 Minneapolis, MN; 7th Street Entry

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