Lee Harvey Osmond, the guise of Canadian singer-songwriter Tom Wilson, inhabits the night’s darker corners.
Lee Harvey Osmond, the guise of Canadian singer-songwriter Tom Wilson, inhabits the night’s darker corners. Singing from the depths of interminable sorrow with a cavernous, gravelly baritone capable of overwhelmingly subtle emotion, Wilson crafts a sense of neo-Waitsian noir with his third release, Beautiful Scars. Brushed snares, organ stabs, tremolo-heavy guitars, jazz-tinged horns, and a sense of permanent midnight dominate these ten songs of love and loss.
By employing a range of styles steeped in calculated cool, Wilson’s approach to heartache is one wrapped in an ever-present mist that clings tightly to the base of flickering streetlights. To listen to Beautiful Scars is to get lost in black and white, shadows chasing the night as it wrestles with the light. Cigarette smoke lingers beside abandoned whiskey glasses illuminated by failing neon, the moon a cloud-enveloped sliver clinging to the night sky.
It’s a highly stylized approach that, coupled with the sympathetic warmth of Michael Timmins’ (Cowboy Junkies) production, perfectly compliments Wilson’s lyrics. Rather than simply hanging in the air, Wilson’s words create vivid scenes shrouded in the more bittersweet elements of the human condition. Little surprise then that he recently scored a book deal to pen a memoir. Given the seemingly autobiographical nature of these songs, however, one has to wonder how much more there is to say and how it can possibly be as effective as hearing the words delivered in his rich voice.
“How Does It Feel,” a lovely, lonely ballad features Wilson’s deeply resonant vocals smoldering heavy in the mix, looming large over the sparse instrumental accompaniment. It’s a breath-taking mix that, when listened to in headphones, illuminates the depths of his voice, flashes of nuance and subtle shading swallowed up in the desolate shadows of heartache and loss. Craggy and speaker rumbling, his voice is a remarkable instrument that perfectly conveys the emotional toll of sadness and loss. Exceptionally, beautifully bleak, “How Does It Feel” is a highlight.
On the rare moments here he delves into straight ahead folk, his voice is nearly identical to that of Greg Brown’s organic, resonant baritone. This is especially true on the lovely “Dreams Come and Go,” a song very much in the vein of Brown’s best work. While folk singer is Wilson’s best-known musical persona, placing the song within the context of the more noir material that precedes it makes it feel somewhat incongruous. But even a cursory listen to the lyrics help reaffirm its case for inclusion, the song again directed at a former lover (presumably the same as before), and thematically of a piece with the rest of the album.
Closing track “Bottom of Our Love” has the feel of a young Tom Waits, via Greg Brown, exploring his country roots. While a lyrically thematic fit, it, along with “Come And Go,” sounds wildly out of place musically. That these two still manage to work within the context of the album is a testament to Wilson’s gifts as not just a songwriter, but chronicler of heartache. An endlessly effecting homage to a failing love, “Bottom of Our Love” is a perfect distillation of the album’s themes delivered against a sparse backdrop. As the last notes wring out, the sadness is palpable, sated only by another spin.