Singer-songwriter Chris Ho compelled the BC music scene to take notice of his crafty brand of indie folk-rock back in 2013 with the release of his buzzworthy debut album City of Dust. Based in Victoria at the time, Ho pulled down a Songwriter of the Year accolade at the Vancouver Island Music Awards, garnered significant airplay on CBC Radio 3, and criss-crossed western Canada on multiple tours. But after his initial success, Ho eventually soured on the music industry and opted to take a step back. Now, after a multi-year hiatus, he’s relocated to Vancouver and has re-emerged on the scene with a renewed vitality and sense of awareness. And on September 3, he’s delivering his long-awaited second album, Places You’ve Been.
The new record is a skilful assortment of eight distinctive yet similarly styled folk-rock tracks. Most of the songs are built on a strikingly simple acoustic framework of guitar and piano that grounds the music and shifts focus to the lyrics, playing to Ho’s strength of storytelling. The vocals throughout the album are exquisitely textured, whether it’s a subtle layering of the lead or multifaceted harmonies with backing vocalists Liam McLaren and Sydney Batters. Ho punctuates many of the songs with a decent dose of rock elements like electric guitar and organ, but it feels like a more back to basics approach than City of Dust.
There’s a quiet maturity and sense of self-reflection to Ho’s writing on this album. He regularly eschews cryptic figurative language, opting instead for authentic explorations of themes like overcoming the pull of nostalgia and coming to terms with past experiences in order to persist in the present. Overall, the record strikes an upbeat and optimistic tone, even while recognizing the ephemeral and fleeting nature of all of life’s significant moments, be they good or bad.
Standout tracks include the opener, “For Now,” which features a catchy, anthemic chorus; “It’s Not You,” a hard-working tune that begins as a sombre ballad before working its way into a foot-stomping rockabilly lather; and the sonically stripped down potential love story, “If You Wanted.”
Ho is supporting his new music with a slate of record release shows this month around the province. He’ll be appearing in Vancouver on September 15 and Kelowna September 16, followed by shows on the island on September 21 in Nanaimo and September 23 in Victoria at Northern Quarter. Places You’ve Been is available September 3 at all the places you find music online, and you can enjoy more insight directly from the man himself in our “Behind the Record with Chris Ho” interview feature, recorded last week at Vinyl Envy in Victoria.