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'The Unconquerable Past'   

-  Label: 'Fish Records'
-  Genre: 'Alt/Country' -  Release Date: '31st January 2020'-  Catalogue No: 'FRCD03'

Our Rating:
After over thirty years of performing and reaching his 13th solo album, Canada's Stephen Fearing is more than ready to review his life and reflect on where society and the planet are heading.

He wrote and produced this record in just under five months trusting his instincts instead of trying to over-think things too much. Although ostensibly a solo record, he collaborated closely with Winnipeg-based producer/songwriter Scott Nolan and a group of players including pianist Jeremy Rusu, bassist Julian Bradford, drummer Christian Dugas, vocalist Andrina Turrene, and Nashville multi-instrumentalist Jim Hoke.

It starts quietly with Break Our Mother's Heart, a gentle acoustic song which includes the line "You can leave the ones you love but you can't leave the past behind"; a sentiment that ties together most of the songs on the album.

On Gold On The River he looks back to a time when he was young and innocent but mostly the lyrics reflect a mature perspective on the world.The Unconquerable Past, the title track, is a full-on country heartbreaker about the loss of youth during which he poses the billion dollar question: "Is this the beginning of the end or just the end of the beginning?"

Stay With Me is a more upbeat number, billed as "a post-punk, post-Trump re-imagining of Ben E. King's Stand By Me." Marie is even more overtly political as Fearing chastises those hiding behind “tinfoil hat religion”. Despite the melodic setting, this song expresses a controlled anger and a quiet despair.

The best things about the record are the unambiguous calls for greater humanity. Someone Else's Shoes advocates empathy, understanding, and tolerance. Sunny is a practical application of these essential traits as he explores courage and love in the story of a transgender person and their relationship with a heterosexual man ("You live the life that makes you whole inside.")

Not all of it works, particularly in the final three tracks The barroom boogie of Christine is a throwaway number that belongs to another record. He belatedly rediscovers his Irish roots in the clichéd Emigrant Song, co-written with Belfast troubadour Andy White, before a downbeat closing number (No Country) speaks about not finding any consolation in nationalism.

Although the momentum is lost by the end, the good vibrations of the earlier songs manage to sustain a record that resonates with strong personal statements and timely social commentary.

Stephen Fearing's website
  author: Martin Raybould

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FEARING, STEPHEN - The Unconquerable Past