Wilderness of Manitoba Island of Echoes

Album Review: The Wilderness of Manitoba, Island of Echoes

With their debut album, When You Left the Fire, The Wilderness of Manitoba had established a distinct sound that warmed our hearts and ears. Their rich harmonies carried their autumnal folk melodies from one song to the other with an effortlessness that eases through like a sip of tea on a colourful fall afternoon.

Fear not, that same essence is still present on the Toronto band's latest release, Island of Echoes, but as with seasons, we're seeing and hearing the band transition into something different.

The band itself was in flux in the past year as band member Melissa Dalton decided to leave after the extensive touring took a toll on her. That alone threw a wrench into the works, but the remaining four members continued on, eliciting guest vocals from local songstresses Elise Legrow and Felicity Williams.

They were particularly struck by their musical connection with violinist Amanda Balsys of The Gertrudes, though, and upon working with her, decided to invite her into the band as a full-time member. Multi-instrumentalist and singer Will Whitham described her voice in a recent interview as "kind of like a mom's in the 70s. You know, a Linda Ronstadt kind of tone. A very strong alto sound."

Sonically, The Wilderness of Manitoba continue their signature sound of intimate harmonies and campfire folk tunes, but now infused with even more elements. More prominent guitars subtly lie atop tracks like "Echoes" whereas drums come tumbling through "The Island of the Day Before."

There's also an urgency on this album, as if the band is hurdling towards the next step with speed and determination. This isn't a slight, though, as these speedier tracks serve their harmonies just as well as it did before. The banjo on "White Woods" drives the track forward as the band's harmonies keep up with the pace; together, creating almost a new signature sound that threads the album together.

This is a band in transition, but if its destination is as lush and beautiful as its transformation, then we're dying with anticipation to hear the next album and what they will sound like. Crank up Island of Echoes, grab that cup of tea and enjoy the fall leaves now before Mother Nature dumps the snow on us.

The Wilderness of Manitoba play tonight (October 26th) at Trinity St. Paul's Church. Doors at 7:30 p.m.


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