Truth be told, I don’t tend to be too happy with the banjo. Oh, I don’t mind it as a one-off, informal means of entertainment; in someone’s living room, a banjo can be likable enough, if the banjo player doesn’t overstay his or her welcome. On a recording, in the context of other instruments—that’s when I get the banjo willies. So right away I’d say Tamara Lindeman, who does musical business as the Weather Station, has to me accomplished something wonderful indeed simply by recording a banjo song that I really like.
Part of this has to do with how she manages to tame the instrument’s tinny-twangier voice (which I realize many people may well enjoy!), playing instead in a tone and bearing that intertwines with rather than muffles the folk-style acoustic guitar that shares the instrumental stage here. I also think that Lindeman’s subtle subversion of banjo music convention further tempers the instrument’s tendency to dominate. (Which isn’t all the banjo’s fault, having little to any capacity for dynamic range.) With Daniel Romano playing guitar and, intermittently, singing alongside Lindeman, the song on the one hand utilizes a familiar sort of duet singing characteristic of bluegrass, yet, as with the banjo-playing, ratchets back the brassiness of tone as well as the formal rhythmic lockstep that seems intrinsic to songs driven by banjos. Here, the melodic structure itself undermines the song’s banjo-iness: listen to how, in the chorus-like section, first heard around 1:00, the duet singing coincides with a thoroughly asymmetrical section of the song: a higher, upward-reaching melody tails off downward, followed by a lower melody that ventures upward but then into an unresolved minor key before properly resolving in the major; note too how we first get two lyrical lines (the aforementioned higher melody) leading into the “All of it is mine” refrain (the lower melody), but three lines leading into it the second time. More complex to describe than to listen to; the end result, almost magically, is a banjo song with nuance and grace.
“Everything I Saw” is the quasi-title track to the second Weather Station album, All Of It Was Mine, which was released in mid-August on Ontario’s You’ve Changed Records. You can listen to the whole thing for free, and/or buy it via The Weather Station’s Bandcamp page. Lindeman is also a relatively new part of the eclectic Canadian ensemble Bruce Peninsula, itself due for a new album come October.