When creating music as sparse as that found on Loyalty, in order to retain the listener’s attention one must either have exceptional melodies or compelling lyrics. Clearly aware of this, the Weather Station offers both. A clear highlight and one of the better songs to have come out this year, the title track features a linear narrative about love and loss and moving on, delivered in a way that makes these staid lyrical tropes feel fresh and new. Much of this is thanks to the voice of Tamara Lindeman, the Canadian singer-songwriter behind the Weather Station. Hers is a voice that exists in the spaces between Joni Mitchell and Chrissie Hynde, possessing the former’s effortlessness of phrasing and the latter’s grounded matter-of-factness.
The travel narrative of “Person Eclipse” could easily sit next to Hejira’s “Song For Sharon” or even “Amelia” with their attention to detail and subtle nuance of phrasing. While she forgoes Mitchell’s jazzier proclivities, her linear lyrical narratives too largely avoid a traditional verse/chorus structure in favor of something more personal, more intimate. In these 11 tracks, we feel as though Lindeman is singing to us directly. “I trust you to know your own mind as I know mine,” she sings on “Shy Women”.
First person pronouns dominate, both in the lyrics and the song titles (“I Mined”, “I Could Only Stand By”), lending Loyalty an affecting level of intimacy that manages to sidestep the usual moroseness of other navel-gazing folkies. Instead, Lindeman’s lyrics play out more as autobiographical short stories, letters to friends and former lovers, fragments of half-remembered conversations. This approach, coupled with an apparent aversion to standard verse/chorus structure, requires a level of attentiveness and commitment from the listener to fully grasp the weight of each song that is more in keeping with the best singer-songwriter albums from the genre’s ’70s heyday than that of contemporary artists.
With this comes that very specific sense of timelessness of material that inhabits the best of fellow Canadians Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen, the fragility of tragic folk heroine Judee Sill, and even Bob Dylan, when he’s not being willfully obtuse. Loyalty, like these albums, offers a lived-in warmth of intimacy that refuses to be date stamped and exists outside the standard release cycle, claiming no specific year or period of origin. Instead, it possesses a feeling of timelessness that speaks to the album’s highly personal lyrics which, rather than being wholly insular, manage a feeling of universality and accessibility that feel more like reminiscences between close friends.
Seemingly simple realizations regarding lost loved ones (“I’m older now than you ever were / or ever would become” from “Tapes”) are rendered profound purely through the intimate nature of Lindeman’s delivery, lovingly caressing the words in her warm, effortless voice. On the aforementioned “Tapes”, it’s as though this revelation proves too much to warrant further discussion and the song descends into a wordless, floating melody that allows the profundity of the realization to sink in, as affecting to the listener as it is to Lindeman herself, now at a loss for words.
Given the low-key nature of the material, it can be easy to get lost in the lyrics, the music affording a meditative quality that perfectly compliments Lindeman’s words in its minimalism. Anything more than a gently strummed guitar or subtle percussion would seem an unwelcome intrusion that would quickly break the spell cast by Loyalty’s warm and sympathetic production.
The lack of traditional structure can be occasionally jarring, as songs seem to end just as they are beginning to pick up steam. Closing track “At Full Height”, in particular, ceases just as the music begins to swell and envelope the listener to a warm blanket of sound. Intentional or not, this results in an immediate desire to return to the album’s warmth, burying oneself in the intimacy and casual familiarity of Lindeman’s delivery and approach to songwriting. Loyalty is an exceptionally affecting masterpiece, at once timeless and very much of its time, highly personal in its specificity and universal in its emotional accessibility and resonance.