By ANDREW J. FRASER Like the gradual build of the beginning notes to the title track, Coastal Life, singer-songwriter, Mike Latimer’s second solo album has been a progressive climb in the making to reach the point of release. With patience and much anticipation, Latimer has finally arrived at his desired destination and he’s brought with him a collection of songs that capture the very essence of his diverse musical personas that bleed so swimmingly one into the other. Progressing and evolving from his previous solo album, 2013’s, Troubadour Of The North, Latimer skillfully conveys a much more matured and refined musicianship that has yielded song structuring and lyrics that are transparently reflective of his personal growth and development; both as the man and as the artist. Inspired and hopeful, the album launches the listener outbound, riding straight forward rock waves as smooth and breezy as the lyricist and storyteller Latimer himself can be as an artist. Dovetailed nicely and complimentary to the opening track, Crosswinds Of Love And Pain, presents a silky rock-jazz track that effortlessly sails along despite the conflicting winds of love and pain Latimer finds himself confronting head-on in the song. Track three, Your Memory, is a slow picking, bitter sweet Canadian neo-country-inspired story of love had and love lost. Heartbroken and docked in place, we look back fondly as much as we long for a day ahead where the pain of old love is replaced by the sweet memories that remain instead. Diving into the swirling pool of the theme of alcohol, Burden of Proof’s clever lyrical play-on-words doesn’t dilute the poignant potency of how impactful, once again, Latimer’s impassioned poeticism deeply resonates overtop of his transcendently stirring guitar playing; most splendidly in the subtle slide-guitar licks that sweep the song along so stylishly at points. Before we embark onto stiller seas of ease, Latimer dabbles and dips into a sultry Queens Of The Stone Age-esque riff rocking story of a villainous, almost surreal Tarantino-like character in Highway Warden. Reminiscent of songs such as Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’, Fortune Teller and Coulter Wall’s, The Devil Wears a Suit and Tie, the track is rich and powerful in emotionality. The main antagonists in all three songs slyly ride up and down the chills of your spine as they wield their wicked ways through the stories these artists all respectively, and expertly, tell. Next, King Of The Castle, carries the listener along into a cool, almost Riders On The Storm type space where again Latimer amply expresses his poetic and descriptive lyricism amidst the churning, rolling thunder the song rides along on. Touching on two of the album’s prominent themes, isolation and sorted pasts marred by ego, pride, regret and conflict, Latimer paints a story of a central character as stubbornly determinant as he is tattered and torn by his own hand and internal disquiet that doggedly keeps his ‘crown’ high atop his head. Crashing in at track number seven, Give Me A Sloe Gin is a dark and ominous glance back into the theme of alcohol. Far from cheery or celebratory, it’s a theme that has also come through in some of Latimer’s previous work, both as a solo artist and through Autonomous, Latimer’s rock band, A Whip Short’s 2013 debut album. Meandering and steady, the haunting blues-rock song is a glimpse into a darker, more clouded side of Latimer’s persona. Much less somber and far more luminous in contrast, Latimer seems to be coming to terms with his personal darksome turmoil, as much of the rest of the album breaks free from this stormy realm of influence into much more serene settings. Channeling his inner Neil Young influences, Lovesick With A Bone To Pick is a charming and catchy tongue-in cheek swagger with Latimer showing yet another colourfully beaming expression from his spectrum of musical talents through his impressively divergent vocal stylings. Sweeping in at track nine as the album’s passage nears its end, Wind in My Weathered Sail is both literal as it is a beautiful metaphor of having gone adrift in life. Opening with the sounds of waves gently crashing against the shore; wind blustering all about, the heart of the song pulsates within its theme of redemption and salvation as much as it does in the rhythmic, haunting drum that pounds underneath this acoustic, Canadiana singer-songwriter ballad. And finally, as we come to dock having traversed the ebb and flow of the many auricular waves of Coastal Life, Latimer gracefully guides us along a velvety blues jam in Would Have Held You Longer. It is a suitable conclusion having journeyed through the diverse and many meticulous performances on display throughout the entirety of the album. The song is familiar and comforting yet uniquely and entirely Latimer. No stranger to hardship, Latimer lived a wavery early life as a boy. After his parents divorced, he and his brother were separated: Mike living with his father. From there, though thick as thieves, there were periods of time when Latimer and his father found themselves living out of cars and rundown shacks. Even when life was on a more upward trajectory, the areas he lived were muddied by less than upstanding neighbours; where crime, violence and sorrow held young Latimer captive. Scared, isolated — a head rest uneasily each night in the darkness. These early traumatic experiences could not weigh down a resolute young Latimer. Come hell or high-water, through sheer willpower and the catharsis of music, Latimer overcame each adversity through sequential strides to where he finds himself today — a successful, original, creative, and talented artist, a smitten husband, and a proud father of two (a third little one on the way). The introspective examination of Coastal Life has swung upon a candid, windowed look into the nuanced emotions and makings of this talented artist’s most intimate elements. From the edge of a cave of darkness, Latimer stands unafraid to expose and express the range and diversity of his talents and influences. Thick-skinned, previously so much was concealed with Latimer having kept both the people in his life and his audience at distant lengths. Where once he stood trembling in a pool of his own self-wallowing, pain and doubt, Latimer now stands firmly embarked upon a gutsy new journey — windswept sails, patched and set high, pushing him forward towards a bright, new, promising horizon. We can be rest assured knowing this is where Latimer is heading and that his musical expedition will bear windfalls of new material; fed and sprung from the warmth and clarity of a musical soul more at peace with itself and life as a whole. And while the world currently grapples with the global Covid-19 crisis — the isolation and despair it has inflicted on so many — there is solace as relatedly, listeners absorb this timely, spirited album. With messages of hope, redemption, and perseverance found within it, Coastal Life buoys our worn, beaten-down spirits as we peer ahead to a day free from the shackles this epidemic has us bound in. Adrift and lost, previous musical wanderings less aiming in their direction have all banded together aboard a ship who’s skilled captain has found his course. Like the seasoned talent he is, Latimer has navigated the unknown with exceptional courage and a wealth of talent, becoming the master and commander of his craft. And with damage inflicted from stormy, raging seas of his past, swells of emotion still rumbling within, Latimer ably faced his inner welter head-on. Far from safe though his tide come in, Latimer intrepidly dove into uncharted waters: writing, composing each instrumental, producing and mastering the entirety of his Coastal Life album. Having pushed through, Latimer finds himself in much stiller waters; ready to drop anchor and enjoy the serenity of a more peaceful place he finds himself today. One hopes Latimer finds such respite knowing he has soundly delivered his best material to date. Undoubtedly, sunless seeds of somber past influences are deeply rooted within the artist. However, resolutely, Latimer reaches out to a bright tomorrow. What the future holds for Latimer (and for the rest of us all at this point), it is fair to say nobody truly knows for sure…so we best stay tuned to find out. ###