By Donald Teplyske
Summer is a time of small pleasures. Discovering a perfectly ripened raspberry on a cane off your deck. Witnessing a sunbeam slowly slide across an aqua-coloured glacier. Savouring an icy beer on the hottest day. And reconnecting with the Waifs after a decade apart.
Not quite achieving Gallagher brother proportions, there has always been a creative tension between the Waifs’ central sister dynamic, further magnified by their collaborator’s own dramatic narratives and artistic callings.
The Waifs—Josh Cunningham and siblings Donna Simpson and Vikki Thorn—have long created engaging folk-pop, and even those of us who stopped paying attention around 2004 have held positive thoughts about the group, long augmented by ‘almost Waifs’ Ben Franz and David Ross Macdonald.
Simpson and Thorn each have their own way of singing and writing, distinctive but complementarily engaging—two sides of the same kite, perhaps—a mad splendour of Armatrading, Gretchen, and Lucinda, of course, with individual approaches to frustration, relationships, hope, and guidance. Simpson’s doomed lovers “Rowena and Wallace” are every couple who burned out rather than fade away long after the thrill of living is gone, while Thorn hangs onto the passionate remembrances of a love “6000 Miles” away.
Cunningham’s songs are sometimes unjustly overlooked by casual listeners, but “Dark Highway” and “Born to Love” are crackerjack, poetically nuanced and somewhat hopeful even within their grim constructs. His songs are more aggressive, and his voice—Ron Sexsmith funneled through Mark Erelli—has a soft growl that draws the listener near.
Having passed 20 years together—and apart—the Waifs have done something quite special with their seventh album: they have reenergized themselves, establishing themselves again as frontrunners in the crowded post-folk, NPR/CBC world of thoughtful, uplifting, contemporary adult music.