William Prince wants to make one thing clear about his second album, Reliever: “This record is not about baseball.” But the indie-folk singer-songwriter from Manitoba’s Peguis First Nation can nonetheless appreciate the sport’s value as a metaphor for life. “Even the best pitchers in the world only go six or seven innings before somebody steps in and takes over,” he explains. “And I was thinking about how whenever we feel like we’re falling short in this life, or not our best selves, wouldn't it be lovely if somebody stepped in and took over those last few innings for us? So this concept of ‘relief’ was was on my mind: Where do I find some satiation for this ache in my life?”
For Prince, that ache has largely been obscured by all he’s achieved since the release of his 2015 debut, Earthly Days, which earned him a JUNO Award for Contemporary Roots Album of the Year, an international deal with Glassnote Records, and accolades from folk-rock masters like Bruce Cockburn and Neil Young. But in his case, success was bittersweet. Just prior to the album’s release, Prince’s father passed away. “He was my biggest fan,” he says. “He never got to hear the record or see any of this take off.” Meanwhile, Prince’s home life was upended by two major changes: a separation from his partner, and the birth of their son shortly after the breakup. “Carrie Fisher had that really great quote: ‘Take your broken heart, make it into art.’ And so I lived on that for the past few years.”
Rather than wallow in his darkest hour, Reliever provides a beacon through the fog, as Prince forsakes his debut’s more character-driven narratives to deliver sage advice and life lessons in his calm, comforting baritone. Slow-burning torch songs like “The Spark” and “Always Have What We Had” possess the instantly familiar, lived-in feel of ’70s-era Gordon Lightfoot and Kris Kristofferson standards, embellishing their rustic environs with lush strings that pitch the songs halfway between heaven and earth. But Reliever’s nostalgic sound is suffused with contemporary concerns. To illustrate its urgent point about living life to the fullest, the dust-kickin’ shuffle “Wasted” name-drops Christopher Wallace—aka The Notorious B.I.G., a figure who loomed large in Prince’s life back when he was a morning show DJ on a local hip-hop station.
“It's almost like there’s this weird rule: 'He's a country guy, he can't like hip-hop!'” Prince says. “But, as a bigger man myself, Christopher Wallace inspired me back in the day with some of the words he shared about the struggles in his life to be a young father. Ultimately, his choices led him to an early grave—and I'm trying to play it out the other way where I don't end up there. Like, I'm not beefing with anybody on the Canadian country circuit right now!”
But if Reliever finds Prince consumed with thoughts of his father’s passing and his own mortality, it also captures the moment when he learned to let go of those anxieties and savour all the good things in his life. It’s a shift documented in Reliever’s stunning orchestral-soul centrepiece “Leave It by the Sea,” inspired by a tour stop in the UK during which Prince forged a spiritual kinship with a local artist whose recent work has likewise been steeped in loss and grieving: He visited the cliffs in Brighton where Nick Cave’s son Arthur fell to his death in 2015. “It really got me reflecting on my own life,“ Prince says, ”and clearing out some of those boxes of grief and failure—like, ‘Look where you are, man! Your music brought you to this point in the world, a place you've never been. You get to play a show tonight to new people.’ We're so quick to have the negative, sad, and defeating things blanket us. But I didn't want to keep living with that sense of ‘One day I'm going to be happy, one day I'm going to be okay.’ Like, you're missing out on it right now in the moment! So, staring out over the English Channel, I said to myself: ‘I'm going to put these things out there and leave them by the sea.’"