Ian Fletcher Thornley
Anthem Records/Warner Music Canada
Part of being human means that we constantly grasp and sometimes desperately cling to all our secrets. We hide within them. We are defined by them. They hold us captive.
If the secrets we keep are indeed a true glimpse into our true-selves, then Ian Fletcher Thonrley’s new solo album is a mystical soundtrack to explore the inner most chambers of our souls.
In short, Secrets is a masterpiece. With the November release of Adele’s 25, this deep and sonically stunning album may already be commercially doomed, or fall silent amongst the noise, but that doesn’t change its importance, nor diminish its depth and beauty.
Ian Fletcher Thornley’s haunting voice and melancholic lyrics are on display here and showcase his artistic maturity. He invited Blue Rodeo’s drummer Glenn Milchem, and Big Wreck bandmate and bassist Dave McMillan, to join him on this very personal journey. This is a very personal album, recorded in a year of great personal struggle. It could not have been easy, but the risk was worth it. Ian Fletcher Thornley gave up the usual comforts of musical control by hiring Canadian producer Mark Howard.
Mark Howard is of course no stranger to any studio. His work over many years, alongside Canadian great Daniel Lanois, speaks volumes in itself. It is difficult to argue with a resume that includes artists like Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and U2. In a recent press release, Ian Fletcher Thornley remarked that he has “always been a big fan of Mark’s”. “I couldn’t think of anyone better suited to produce this album”. Based on the result, it is difficult not to agree, unless of course you happen to be tone deaf.
Part of the charm of Secrets is that it took just twelve days to record. This gives the album a level of simplicity and honesty, that is often neglected in a typical recording session. There is a deep kinship and connection here with great acoustic albums from the past, like Muddy Water’s Folk Singer, or any of the great MTV Unplugged sessions, some of which have never been released, but are buried somewhere in a corporate vault.
This was indeed the right time to record. A simple cottage, in Northern Ontario town, was the right place. All recording and mixing took place, in tight quarters, right there at the cottage. The short time and space left little time to do anything else other than record some great and deeply personal music.
What makes Secrets so compelling is its diversity. Very often, the great enemy of any acoustic album is sameness. Mark Howard’s approach of capturing the musical moment as it happens “audio verite”, has steered the listener clear of that danger. The thirteen tracks that are presented here are very diverse. They do not blend into an acoustic after thought. Each track varies in focus, pacing, and in vocal intimacy. It is very difficult to describe in words, but the album simply begs for a chance to be heard.
Most fans will be excited to hear a beautiful reinterpretation of the Big Wreck hit Blown Wide Open, but I am personally hunted by the very moody and vulnerable song Feel. It is a track dripping with sadness. It harbours a haunting melody that imbeds itself into the listener’s consciousness, offering a painful reality that good things end. The lyrics themselves are a powerful example of the depth of the whole album.
Could you make up one more heaven,
cause the last one is gone forever.
Will you always hold out for more,
or was I always just in your way?
Did you feel?
Did you feel, so loved?
Sometimes what we know and what we wish to know are two irreconcilable worlds that cannot exist alongside one other. Ian Fletcher Thornley is brilliant in Secrets, because he allows himself to be vulnerable. It is never easy to write a song, but only in a state of angst, a state of fear and trembling, can an artist write from the depths of his soul.
Sadly, most people won’t even stop long enough to listen. Others will only stop long enough to poke fun or criticize, but this is precisely the why this record should be embraced.
Each song on Secrets is thought provoking and musically meditative. Ian Fletcher Thornley and Mark Howard created a Canadian masterpiece. Those twelve days in a modest Northern Ontario Cottage, has born much fruit.
The tour begins in early December. See you at the show and bring a secret.
– Greg Kieszkowski
December 9 – Montreal, QC – Café Campus
December 11 – Ottawa, ON – Mavericks
December 13 – London, ON – London Music Hall
December 15 – Hamilton, ON – Molson Canadian Studio
December 16 – Toronto, ON – The Mod Club
SPILL ALBUM REVIEW: IAN FLETCHER THORNLEY – SECRETS