Before I begin, a slight wedge of background is necessary in order to attempt to appreciate whatever it is Travis Reitsma is trying to accomplish here. Travis is an independent musician currently centered in Windsor, Ontario. He has two albums out thus far; this is the second, released in 2010. To be brutally honest, I wasn't sure how you, the reading public, was going to get your hands on it if you ever wanted to. Nowhere on his website is a link to actually purchasing "Outside The Factory Gates". If I Google the album, however, I can get a copy of the album for as low as a measly five bucks. That's reasonable. Or I can go to Amazon and pay almost four times as much (and they're out of stock). But the definitive source, Travis' website, proclaims that it's actually ten dollars, or five if you belong to a union. "Finally, them union dues are paying off," says a skilled labourer in need of alternative-folk music. But really, why a discount for union members? Because "Outside The Factory Gates" is, as he (or his publicist that may or may not exist) claims, "dedicated to the working women and men of Windsor, ON." It becomes a protest-style album. What exactly are we protesting? Work? The absence of work? Having to work? Okay.
He also claims that "the songs have a distinctly Windsoresque flavour", which means they will probably give you cancer.
Travis worked with fellow Windsorite musician Johnny West. I believe we reviewed one of his albums a while back, and it received a very positive score. I always say that the first song on any album sets the mood for the rest of the experience. Factory Gates clearly sets a folksy tone. It's acoustic guitar (with small inklings of background noise from the studio), it's slow as a tortoise, and it features adequate amounts of wailing without the all-encompassing Los Angeles voice correcting touch. Other songs like the guitar/piano back-and-forthery of Beggars or the mid-90s Jewel revival that is Stop Comin' Round Here solidify that status: he is the real deal, so it seems. He's the kind of guy that would avoid gigantic stages, preferring the cozy comforts of a small café at the corner of Somewhere Ave. and Lots-Of-Parking Way.
Actually, he DOES play at cafés in Windsor. Not sure where else he plays. Seems the last time his tour listings were updated, I was just about to outgrow my highchair. I exaggerate just a little, and you know it.
Other songs on the album show Travis' versatility. Union Buryin' Ground is a more upbeat rural escape, singing about what else but the union! It's very festive and wouldn't fall flat in the midst of a hoedown. 73 Degrees Fahrenheit, contrary to the rest of the album, is a solemn affair featuring distant piano and nothing more, easily displaying a more docile side of Mr. Reitsma that may otherwise be hidden by twangs and caterwauling. And When Bill O'Reilly Falls Asleep demonstrates a slightly harder sound with a gruff electric guitar to counteract his usual subdued acoustic sound. Otherwise, he maintains a consistent folksy rhythm to the remainder of his songs. Travis, or his promo doppelganger, also wrote on his website that all the songs here are "brought to life by an experimental flare that runs throughout the album". But, by my calculations, there isn't really much that I would ever consider as "experimental", aside from being a bit playful with a few tunes.
There are five quotes on his page to boast the outstanding nature of his music. Two are from the same source, the other three from another. And they're both Windsor-based publications, so they will certainly love a musician whose interests center around the working class of that particular city. But I, from outside of the Windsordome, am not feeling it. I've been to the city of which he speaks. I've seen the shattered windows of abandoned warehouses and factories, nestled in the dilapidated buildings that once housed a bustling group of men and women alike. Supporting industry, supporting economy, supporting a specific way of life. And, according to his accomplice, one Johnny West, there are references to Windsor all over the place. An example if from Ford City Blues, where he claims that high-powered businessmen in their infinite wisdom have "destroyed everything from Drouillard to St. Luke", referencing two streets in the vicinity of the Ford plants. If you're from Windsor, you might recognize the references; as an outsider, you're not going to understand. This lack of universality will likely be an ostracizing factor to non-Windsorites, so take caution.
For fans of the genre, you'll likely find something to like here, regardless of your geographic location. And when on the rare occasions when Travis actually spreads his wings beyond standard acoustic fare, you'll see that there's more than meets the eye/ear in this performer. I'm hoping that, if he does put out future recordings, that he brandishes more than a select few chords and some words about failed industry. There's potential in Travis Reitsma, but "Outside The Factory Gates" merely scratches the surface.