An Unconventional Folk Journey

Sleeping Giant Folk Music Society Presents Oliver Swain

By Melanie Larson

When it comes to the musical stylings of Oliver Swain, there are a collection of labels to be attributed to his sound. Everything from Americana to R&B to folk-noir has been used, but Swain himself puts it the best when he describes it as “chamber folk odyssey.” The Port Arthur Polish Hall will be alive with this distinctive musical journey when Oliver Swain takes the stage on March 18.

Hailing from Victoria, BC, Swain has been an influential member of the Canadian folk music scene for many years. His musical efforts have taken shape in multiple groups including the likes of Scruj MacDuhk, Outlaw Social, and The Bills. However, now his time is invested primarily in his solo endeavour, Oliver Swain’s Big Machine. Having released two albums, In a Big Machine and Never More Together, Swain has achieved critical acclaim, even earning a nomination for a Juno Award.

Throughout his musical career, the musician has expressed a passion for ethnomusicology that has taken him from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi Delta. On his travels, Swain picked up as many cultural genres as he could get his hands on, with an emphasis on Afro-American styles. As his musical horizons broadened, Swain’s taste shifted to the spiritual side as he studied various forms of devotional music. Aside from cultural expansion, his albums have also been heralded for the incorporation of a diverse range of instruments such as guitar, banjo, upright bass, and violin.

By referring to his music as “chamber folk odyssey,” Oliver Swain paints an image of fanciful mystery in the minds of prospective listeners. However, it’s an image he effectively lives up to. While others have described his music as both unconventional and traditional, there’s one consistency that prevails in all descriptions—his mastery of folk itself. While borrowing aspects of his vast spiritual and cultural influences, he manages to bend the folk genre just enough to make it his own without breaking that traditional base. Audiences can surely expect to be transported to mystical destinations of sound when Oliver Swain brings his diverse performance to Thunder Bay.

Oliver Swain plays the Port Arthur Polish Hall on March 18, presented by the Sleeping Giant Folk Music Society. Visit sleepinggiant.ca for ticket info.