Published Oct 23, 2017As Gord Downie's family wrote in a statement following his passing on October 17, the songwriter chose to spend the time following his diagnosis with terminal brain cancer "as he always had — making music, making memories and expressing deep gratitude to his family and friends for a life well lived." As the volume of tributes and testimony to the Canadian icon has shown, it was an attitude he maintained throughout his entire life.
For his final artistic statement, Downie mined that disposition as the basis for Introduce Yerself. He revealed that the disc, recorded with Kevin Drew during sessions in early 2016 and 2017, featured 23 tracks that each represented a person in his life. Some are named and some remain nameless across the listen, though each and every one is treated to Downie's reverent writing.
"Bedtime" finds him lending a great amount of detail to tucking one of his children into bed, pulling his hands away "as if from a bomb" in an effort to not wake them. "You Me and the B's" finds him reflecting on how his favourite hockey team strengthened a relationship, complete with instances of hockey stick found-sound for percussion.
Some more recent reflections are included here, too. The record's title track finds Downie telling of writing notes on his hands as memory cues following his diagnosis. "The North" not only name-checks the James Bay trip that Downie and his bandmates took following their cross-country "Man Machine Poem tour," but continues where Secret Path left off in pointing to Canada's atrocious treatment of its Indigenous peoples, as he sings that the North "showed me a problem that is over 100 years old."
Not unlike Drew and Downie's work on last year's Secret Path, the album's instrumentation is built primarily from piano, drums and acoustic guitar. This leaves Downie's voice at the forefront, pushing his range to the highest of heights on "Wolf's Home" and the sun-soaked "A Natural." As Drew told the New York Times, many of these tracks were recorded in single takes, with a raw urgency apparent on "Ricky Please" and "Faith Faith."
Though having a record released in close proximity to his passing has already found Downie compared to late icons David Bowie and Leonard Cohen, he's less concerned with dressing his goodbyes in dense lyrical fashion, as they did. Introduce Yerself finds Downie fully, completely and unequivocally himself, undoubtedly a comfort for listeners who will continue to celebrate his life and legacy going forward. (Arts & Crafts)