In the middle of the city there is a tree. Surrounded by glass, steel and concrete, the tree grows lush and strong despite its environs. A young woman is sitting under this tree, strumming on her banjo and humming the haunting melodies that will become the songs for her band. This is the world that Toronto’s Beams dwells in. It’s a place that’s familiar and comfortable while still being fresh and exciting. A place where old and new combine to create something unique.
This is Just Rivers, the long-awaited debut album from Beams. Produced by Peter J. Moore (the creator of the Cowboy Junkies‘ infamous “Trinity Sessions” recording), Just Rivers overflows with the youthful abandon of its principal songwriter and lead singer, Anna Mernieks. The band’s lush vocal harmonies and layers of melody often belie the disquieting and sinister aspects of Anna’s lyrics. Born of her personal life experiences, Anna uses her words to explore concepts of community and familial relationships–taking the listener’s hand and leading them down a rabbit hole that continues to prove that you don’t need to scream to yell and the amps don’t need to be turned up to eleven to rattle your core.
Love and friendship are prevalent and poignant themes throughout Just Rivers. No wonder, then, that the band also includes Anna’s long-time partner Mike Duffield on drums; or that the roster is rounded out by long-time friends Heather Mazhar on vocals, Keith Hamilton on musical saw, Dave Hamilton on mandolin, Craig Moffatt on bass, and Martin Crawford on lap steel, some of whom have done time in popular local acts like the Hamilton Trading Co. and the Diableros.
The unconventional instrumentation lends itself to the subject matter well, which means that Just Rivers is unlike anything you’ve ever heard, both old and new; comfortable and unspoiled. In the middle of the city there is a tree. And now this tree has born fruit.