Although Lee Harvey Osmond is the brainchild of Tom Wilson, it's not a solo project -- but calling it a band isn't really accurate, either.
No, Lee Harvey Osmond is a community.
"It's important to build community at this point in my creative life," Wilson says over the phone from a diner in Edmonton. "Lee Harvey Osmond is a band about bringing 'no ego' into the music. That's overused, but we have a group of great musicians that aren't interested in showing off. We're all slaves to the rhythm."
The evidence of that is all over The Folk Sinner, Lee Harvey Osmond's sophomore album. Released in January, the Polaris Music Prize-longlisted album was produced by Michael Timmins and features an impressive cast of guest players, including Hawksley Workman, Colin Linden, Oh Susanna and members of the Cowboy Junkies, the Sadies and Skydiggers, to name a few. The resulting album has the vibe of a kitchen party, the unfettered sound of friends making music together.
Wilson was inspired by two landmark albums -- Cowboy Junkies' 1988 album The Trinity Session and Miles Davis' 1959 album Kind of Blue -- that embodied a spirit of community. The former was recorded at Toronto's Church of the Holy Trinity with the band circled around a single mike; the latter is "probably the greatest recording that we have on this planet," according to Wilson.
"I don't compare what we do to (those records), but I use them as templates for what we do," he says. "The Trinity Session inspired people to make records differently. On Kind of Blue, no one is showing off; everyone is committed to the music."
The absence of ego is what attracted Wilson to folk music in the first place. Despite being the ex-frontman of Junkhouse, one of the most important bands in the CanRock canon, Wilson has always considered himself a folksinger.
"I never considered myself a rock and roller. The people who first gave me a stage to play on when I was 16 were Stan Rogers and Willie P. Bennett. The audience that makes up the folk world doesn't understand me. We did an interview here at CKUA and someone made a very nice comment like, 'You're a lot sweeter than you look.'
"I'm from Hamilton. I've had an interesting life. I get it. The way I look doesn't welcome a folk audience. That's why we called this album The Folk Sinner.
"I've always sang about community," he continues. "Junkhouse wrote folk songs about Hamilton. I remember doing an interview with Rolling Stone in Germany and they were asking about the Burlington Bridge."
In fact, Lee Harvey Osmond is closer to Wilson's original vision for Junkhouse.
"We wanted Junkhouse to be a vehicle for songwriting. We couldn't find an audience for it -- and then we started taking lots of pills and drinking a lot and turning our amps up."
Wilson says having Timmins at the helm has been integral in realizing Lee Harvey Osmond's blue-collar brand of folk.
"He understood exactly where we were coming from. He's not only a member of the band, but he appreciates analogue recording. He's a fan of the same Canadian folk music as I am. He's a lover of song. When you find a producer who doesn't want to whittle a song down to 31/2 minutes... we feel like we found a brother, you know?"
They've found success, too. The Folk Sinner has earned glowing reviews, audiences are steadily growing and Lee Harvey Osmond is now a playlist fixture on XM Radio's The Loft.
For Wilson's part, he's just thankful to make this music with these players.
"I'm a grandfather twice, I've been through the rock-and-roll ringer," he says. "I just want to create."