Asleep On the Tracks, the first album by Kris Begg is the best folk record I’ve heard this year. Throughout its thirteen tracks his gorgeous voice is expertly matched with subtle acoustic guitar, haunting cello, beautiful piano and drums that vary from slight accents to crushing. Most of the music on Asleep On The Tracks is dark and sorrowful, however there are notable exceptions. Water Song has a lighthearted charm built on a cheerful, upbeat banjo atop a frolicking drum beat. Bouncy and bluesy Empty Locket is drenched with fear and uncertainty but sung with defiant and inspired confidence. Citrine Stone is the rockiest song on the album exhibiting a light punk influence that forces Kris’ voice close to a howl. Despite the beauty of its songs, there is little to nothing that musically separates Asleep On The Tracks from other modern alternative folk records. Kris’ voice and lyrics are what makes this collection of songs special.
Asleep On The Tracks serves as a bittersweet love letter to his time spent in Montreal. He mentions the city twice by name and the album’s lyrics are rife with references to a brutal and unfeeling environment, an unsurprising view of our fair city from someone raised in a small southern Ontario town. Kris’ lyrical style, like other great folk artists before him, relies heavily on powerful story-telling of an obviously autobiographical nature.
In a promotional video he posted, Kris describes Asleep On the Tracks as a collection of whiskey and wine-soaked love songs. Like most art that revolves around a combination of love and alcohol, there is a lot of sadness and regret in these songs. All of the mentions of love seem apologetic and one-sided, cursed by the consequences of substance abuse. Alcohol isn’t the only vice given the spotlight on the album. References to needles point to something much darker. No attempts are made to justify, glamourize or romanticize these moments. They’re drenched with rawness, remorse and imbued with the air of a confession.
“I know I’m going crazy but I’ve still got hope left”, Kris sings at the start of Scotch October. Despite all of the album’s lyrical darkness there’s an overlying sense of hope in these songs. Yes, he’s experienced horrible things but after crawling away from them mustered the strength to tell us about it with beauty and grace. The first time I heard Kris’ music was at a live show and his powerful voice, and impressive beard, drew me in immediately.
Begg has his album release on January 22.