Ian Foster has been a staple of the St. John’s music scene for many years. For just about as long, St. John’s has been a staple of the Ian Foster music scene. Foster’s relationship with the capital city, and his explorations of how the city works its way into the lives and relationships of its citizens is one of the major themes of this excellent album. His jazzily complex yet simply arranged songs are evocations of the urban realities of most of our lives. Songs like ‘You and the Snowplows’ and ‘Foot of the Stairs’ are beautiful explorations of how a place can be many things:
“This city makes me a complicated sort of sad.
It’s like a lover that I wish I’d had
I used to flirt with her in my younger days
But I wanted her to be the one who got away”(‘Foot of the Stairs’)
Foster is just as good creating arresting images that are rich with layered meaning:
“Where the roof had sort of caved in/some nails were bared like teeth” (‘The House’)
“On the first day, I can never forget/your body in my doorway in silhouette” (‘The First Day’)
Foster’s pared-down writing style and unique, melodic arrangements shuns complicated music and instead relies on tasteful, proficient instrumental work and some damn good songwriting. The production is wonderfully restrained, with minimal use of percussion and backing instruments that lets the vocals, guitars, the other instruments take the lead as necessary yet blend so that no one sound overwhelms. The vocal work seems stronger too than on his previous album, and well-suited to the lyrical style, poetic yet shot through with urban realism.
Most of the tracks on The Evening Light are reflective and contemplative (sometimes bordering on nostalgic). ‘Two Fires’ is noticeably different, darker with a harsh, almost frantic beat and violins providing some dissonance. It’s interesting to find this song right smack in the middle of the album (track 6 of 11) since it differs so noticeably from the rest of the tracks. Although it seems like a departure, this change of musical gears actually fits well, making a nice contrast with the more melodic songs and adding to the album as a whole.
Anybody who enjoys some good songwriting and performance should enjoy The Evening Light. Although Foster’s introspective style, with his unique and melodic arrangement means that it’s sometimes difficult to pull a hook, a catchy tune or phrase out of his songs, that’s OK. These aren’t so much the kind of songs that get stuck in your head as the kind that get stuck in your mind, or maybe your imagination, watching the life of the city unfold around you.
Then again, I do tend to find myself whistling violin lines from ‘Calendar’.