Tim Harrison,
Wheatfield with Crows
(Second Avenue, 2003)

Toronto-based singer-songwriter Tim Harrison is a poet with an appreciation for drama and history. He's been on the scene for a lot of years and the experience shows in his latest recording, Wheatfield With Crows, a collection of well-written and beautifully performed originals and adaptations of poetic journeys that have touched his life.

Harrison, in addition to co-producing, plays guitar, mandolin and bass on the record and is accompanied by Sahra Featherstone (Celtic harp), Tom Leighton (accordion), Liane de Lotbiniere (background vocals), Paul Mills (guitar), Chris Whiteley (harmonica) and executive producer Lisa Weitz (background vocals). Throughout the record, the understated accompaniment from this fine group of musicians provides a rich background for Harrison's expressive voice.

A trivia question in a supermarket line about Van Gogh's final painting, which appears on the CD cover, inspired the title track, which captures a final work of art and a snapshot of time. From the beginning of the first song, Harrison's accomplished guitar playing and emotional vocals stand out. The historian takes over on "Home Boys," about the impoverished children who were taken from Britain's streets and sent to Canada to live and work, often in exploitative situations. This is the third song by a Canadian songwriter that I've heard on this subject -- yet the tragedy of it still strikes me.

A definite highlight is "Elizabeth's Lament," a beautiful and tragic ballad described in the liner notes as having been "inspired by a woman who I met for whom the compromises which are required in every relationship had become too great." Harrison's pen turns to the beginning of a love affair in the upbeat, harmonica-infused "Maps of Paris; and to political statement in "The Stars Above," the title track from the now discontinued record from which seven tracks on Wheatfield With Crows were re-recorded for this project.

Harrison turns to the poetry of W.B. Yeats in "Song of the Wandering Aengus" and to the meandering path of life in Phil Ochs' "There But For Fortune." "Watson Goes to the Park," an instrumental ditty inspired by Harrison's son Noah and their basset hound Watson, features gorgeous and whimsical finger picking. The record closes with Harrison's music and the memory of his great-great grandfather put to the words of poet John Masefield on "Sea-fever."

Tim Harrison, as a songwriter and a musician, is a true star in the firmament of Canadian folk music, and Wheatfield With Crows is a showcase of his talents for both songwriting and adaptation of songs and poems that have touched him. That emotional connection to the material is what makes these songs stand out; and it is what shows the listener something new with every spin of the record.

- Rambles
written by Rachel Jagt
published 9 August 2003

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