The Riverthieves’ 2018 album, Soldier, follows three tours to Afghanistan,
one to Haiti.
Eight years and four operational tours after the release of their first album, Bandit Queen, the established Eastern Ontario indie-folk band, Riverthieves, is going back on stage, poised to release their sophomore album, Soldier, early in 2018.
The dozen tracks that make up Soldier, each an original composition, break new ground musically and instrumentally for the sextet, two members of which, Devon Matsalla and Finley Mullally, are serving soldiers, the balance sons and fathers of soldiers.
The Riverthieves is a “band Interrupted,” according to Chris Knowles, whose father and daughter are veterans of the Canadian army. “We were doing really well in 2009 - lots of shows, festivals, theatre gigs - and then Devon and Finley were deployed.” In fact, Devon left for Kandahar, Afghanistan immediately after the curtain fell on their live recording at the Almonte Town Hall in May 2009, Finley following him three months later.
“We were keen to write an album from scratch that would hang together thematically, but vary widely from song to song in tone, mood and instrumentation,” says Sal De Meo, who plays finger-style acoustic guitar on the album for the first time as well as bass.
“It seems that most of the soldier-songs I’ve heard on the radio end up as laments or protest-songs,” says Devon, “but for us, where we’ve lived the military life from lots of angles over many decades, our experience is very much more diverse: there’s lots of joy and camaraderie, lots to celebrate mixed in with opportunities to be sombre and to feel loss.”
Instrumentally, the band’s usual line up of fiddle, guitar, whistle, mandolin, bass and bodhran has been augmented with some more unusual choices: distorted electric guitar and mandolin; jazz keyboard; the ephemeral EWI (Electronic Wind Instruments); and of course, the skirling of the bagpipes.
Some of the tracks like “I’m Not Going Drinking in Georgetown” and “Off to the Sea” will sound familiar to fans of the East-Coast, party-folk stylings of the ‘Thieves; however these contrast with the more contemplative “Mats Sundin’s Tears”, exploring Canadian nostalgia and the connections between soldier, home and hockey, and “Head Full of Fire” which riffs on what an on-line dating profile of a career soldier might consist.
The WWII anthem “Goodnight Eileen” considers love in wartime. Some really dark matter gets a full airing: “How Long Have I Been Sleeping”, is a song considering recovery from trauma and the danger or self-harm and suicide; “Taking the Cougar to Tarin Kowt” comes close to protest, raging against the exploitation of soldiers’ courage, obedience and discipline.
The album was recorded by Mike Kay and mixed by Chris Bradley. it will be supported with a tour of Eastern Canada in 2018.