If Tony Dekker’s debut solo album, Prayer of the Woods, sounds like the kind of record that’s meant to be played in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, that’s by design. As much as the singer-guitarist appreciates being in big, crowded clubs with his full-time project, Great Lake Swimmers, he also loves getting away from the din of the modern world. That’s reflected in gorgeously hushed album offerings like “Land of the Glass Pinecones” and “Hearing Voices”, both of which seem designed to make you wonder why in the hell you ever decided to live in the city.
“I find that kind of experience really re-energizing—getting to places where there are long gaps between places that actually have names,” Dekker says, on the line from a Regina tour stop. “Also, I think it sort of awakens a healthy fear of the natural world. That’s an important response, because it nurtures a respect for wilderness and nature. All those things, I hope, sort of shine through on the album.”
Mission accomplished there, with Prayer of the Woods a great soundtrack for those whose idea of heaven is a remote lake near 100 Mile House and an iPod loaded with Neil Young, Iron & Wine, and Angel Olsen. The reflective voice-and-acoustic-guitar opener “On My Way Back” sets the tone for the record, kicking off with the line “Getting back to town isn’t as easy as it seems.” From there, Dekker keeps the mood mellow and warm, the title track all glowing-hearth guitars and rich church organs, and “Somewhere Near Thunder Bay” as golden as a fall day in the B.C. Interior.
If introspective is the overwhelming feel of the album, that’s not by accident, as evidenced by Dekker’s choosing to record the album in a small-town Ontario church.
“I really wanted to make a point of not overthinking things too much,” he notes. “I really concentrated on going for a feel and a vibe of the songs and the room and the performance aspect of leaving the songs a little bit raw.”
The goal was also to get back to the original sound of Great Lake Swimmers, a band that started out playing tiny clubs and house gigs and has since graduated to rooms that are far less intimate.
“I had songs that I was doing demos for, and it became pretty obvious early on that they really didn’t need much more than vocals and guitar,” Dekker says. “I was originally just going to do a Great Lake Swimmers solo tour, just me playing songs primarily from the first album, because it’s coming up on its 10-year anniversary. I don’t get the chance to play those quieter songs these days with the band. All of this lined up to where I was like, ‘I’ll just record these new songs on my own and keep them more pared back than Great Lake Swimmers stuff, and then I’ll take them on the road.’ ”
And if Dekker has a suggestion about where Prayer of the Woods might be best enjoyed, it’s actually somewhere a little less isolated than cabin country. You think that his choice to close the album with a plaintive voice-and-guitar take on Gordon Lightfoot’s “Carefree Highway” wasn’t carefully thought out?
“This record, to me, kind of feels like a driving record,” Dekker says. “Like it’s something that you would maybe listen to driving late at night or something.”
Preferably as far away from the city as possible.