Album Review: The Forks – Round the Bend

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Folk music is, by definition and in name, the music of the people – and the genre is conventionally described with adjectives like “warm”, and “inviting”. These are appropriate, accurate, and expected labels for The Forks and their debut EP – but I’ll say that it’s a whole new experience to be literally greeted by the first words of a record’s opening track.

And yet, here we are! With a “Friends and neighbours / welcome strangers!”, Donovan Thorimbert and Jean Beaumier kick off a short collection of tunes that simultaneously celebrate a variety of folk traditions and show off their own range as performers, songwriters, and stewards of those legacies.

While the mobile-but-Montreal-based duo has long been making a name for themselves in their travels with a live repertoire of originals, traditional tunes, and storytelling standards, “Round the Bend” is their first kick at the can of recording their compositions. And while that can be scary and exciting new ground to cover, The Forks playfully ramble along the frontier between paying homage to their influences and charging their own road ahead. 

Single “One Degree” kicks off the journey in fine folk form with bass, banjo, acoustic guitar, clip-clop percussion, and mixed feelings about lost love. And while they also mix metaphors of restless nights and burning alive, The Forks manage to keep things light with a bouncy melody, clever wordplay, and plaintive accounts of relatable emotional experiences.

That blend of wry humour and real feelings gives life to most of the album, saving “Silly Monkey Brains” from knee-jerk dismissal (based on title alone) with the slightly off-kilter harmonies of a children’s singalong and a humbling, helpful reminder to accept/embrace one’s own mental health ecosystem. 

And while “Beer In My Pocket” and “Where Will You Go” serve up a pretty convincing diptych for the highs and lows of drinking and aimlessness, it’s with the literal centerpiece of “Tall Grass” that The Forks take a hard left, playing it straight and steering listeners into a dark tale of anxiety, fear, and regret. Accompanied by vaguely Eastern European choruses (or Paul Simon tributes) of “lie-lie-lie”, Thorimbert plays off his education and experience in literature and storytelling with unnerving and unsettling descriptions of wind, grass, fields, birds, and someone – or something -that the protagonist can’t (and doesn’t want to) escape. 

Surely, the listener doesn’t want to go anywhere else either, content to travel along with The Forks through shadows, firelight, and the glow of a busy neighbourhood tavern. While the trip on “Round the Bend” is a short one, this is a confident statement from a seasoned folk band that is more than ready to start writing and recording their own traditions. 

* “Round the Bend” is available today on Spotify and Bandcamp for purchase and streaming; The Forks continue their summer tour, ending in Newfoundland

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