The Fugitives are a folk collective fronted by singer-songwriters Adrian Glynn and Brendan McLeod. Established in 2007, they’ve been nominated for multiple Canadian Folk Music Awards and a Western Canadian Music Award. Their latest endeavor, The Promise of Strangers, was released in January by Borealis Records. Their folk vibe serves as the album’s entry point that brings listeners into complex and real narratives. The Fugitives do this through Glynn’s and McLeod’s masterful wordsmithing and an astute sense of dynamic narration. McLeod is a novelist and champion slam poet while Glynn is an actor. Their word slinging talents coupled with sagacious musicality are heard throughout the album.
The Promise of Strangers is an album of dedications. The collective found inspiration in fictional characters, musical heroes, family, friends, and the news cycle. The album begins with a tribute to Leonard Cohen. The song was written a day after Cohen’s death and would indeed make a stirring eulogy. “No Words (for L. Cohen)” tenderly captures the poignant relationship between a musician and their fans. The song personifies a mourning soul when they say “I have no words, I think he took them all… I never knew a stranger who hurt my heart better.” The Fugitives are renowned for their emotional storytelling and “No Words (for L. Cohen)” is guaranteed to absorb the listener.
The Fugitives also strike an overtly political tone throughout the album. The devastating homophobic mass shooting at the Pulse Nightclub inspired the song “Orlando (For the Victims and Survivors)”. Similarly the Fugitives dedicated “Lights Out” to Adam Capay. I was completely unfamiliar with his story. Capay was held in pretrial solitary confinement in a Canadian jail. Capay’s supporters decried the confinement as a human rights violation seeped in racial injustice. The song’s title is the call to turn off the lights blazing 24 hours a day in Capay’s cell. The song’s instrumentation creates an effective connection to Capay’s case. Yet the full range of the sweeping strings verges on a Hans Zimmer-esque blockbuster theme. Regardless both tracks are valuable musical and political endeavors.
The Promise of Strangers also pays tributes to those who personally impacted the group. “My Mother Sang (For Our Moms)” was primarily inspired by Glynn’s mother’s lullabies. The song is accessible enough to remind every listener of a maternal figure. Likewise, “London in the Sixties (For Dr. McMorran)” was drawn from Glynn’s father’s memories of the city before emigrating to Canada. The song features lively lyrics such as “I had a waistcoat and Italian shoes” thereby recalling an era of erstwhile frivolity. However, the track also questions whether emigration was the right choice. The potential seriousness is lightened by the song’s animated horns carried by an exhilarating saxophone solo.
A collective in every sense of the word, the Fugitives find strength in their ability to collaborate. The duo are joined by classically trained multi-instrumentalist Steve Charles in addition to the adroit violinist Ali Romanow. Likewise “No Words (for L. Cohen)” was recorded live with the gospel based Righteous Ramshackle Chorus. “Northern Lights (For Steel Audrey)” kicks off with an acoustic banjo and organ interplay evoking a sense of celestial imagery. McLeod and Glynn’s storytelling tempers the album’s experimentation then restates The Promise of Strangers back to its folk roots.
At times the songs’ musicality sounds like a variation of a theme. The majority of the album’s songs begin subdued then gradually up shifts in tempo and intensity. The addition of more vocals or instruments are progressively fed into the track ultimately building to one lasting crescendo. On the poignant “See This Winter Out (For Amy)”, the music threads in the kick-drum followed by the banjo to build the music. It is very catchy but an over-trodden folk cliché at this point.
But The Promise of Strangers is built on immense talent. The musicians’ caliber heightens the quality of the album without sounding overly produced. Whereas the album embarks on themes that are personal and familial, the Fugitives reminds listeners of the power cloaked in the unknown. The Fugitives have found success in Canada but are yet to break through in the United States. This might be the album that expands their audience.