It’s perhaps a truism to suggest that a broken heart makes for great art. Certainly the songwriter’s lot can often seem an unhappy one and emotional turbulence is one of the most common recurring themes. But there’s nothing automatic about it and the skill is to turn hurt into songs that people genuinely identify with. There are any number of clichés to pick your way through for fear of being trite or worst of all, just plain dull. After all, a public outpouring of grief needs to find a sympathetic and indulgent audience. Still, perhaps it’s the saturation of the media that means we all live little bits of our lives through other people’s stories and in this case songs. It’s better to have someone else singing about heartache than to be actually suffering it. Whatever the rationale, our appetite for break-up records remains high, especially when they’re good ones and Darlingford is just that.
Cara Luft is unquestionably wearing her heart on her sleeve with Darlingford and the current biography makes it clear that the record follows the breakdown of her most personal long term relationship. Some of the songs deal unflinchingly with the fallout of that, but it also seems to have awoken a wider sense of conflict for Cara and there is a battle for the soul taking place as good and evil wage war. With all of this comes the obvious wish for succour, healing and ultimately redemption. There are flashes too of an indomitable spirit and surges of optimism, Cara is bowed but not crushed and broken. In the final act she even seems to have got her sense of humour back.
Darlingford fascinates on many levels, not least in that it derives its title from a small rural community in which some of it was recorded. Rather than spend time locked into a studio, Cara instead chose to record in different locations and with engineer Lloyd Peterson in tow, the two set up camp in several remote locations, including Darlingford’s United Church. It may in part be down to budgets, as this was largely funded through the donations of family, friends and fans, who pledged their support by buying copies up front, before the recording had even begun. It’s a way of working that is increasingly popular and Cara refers to the donors as her “music angels.” But whatever the root-cause, the effect of not having to watch the studio clock ticking has obviously been creatively liberating.
The record has a big, bold sound and that in part is down to an impressive guest list of 20 musicians who have added their talents to Cara’s multi instrumental skills and powerful voice. But the way this has been done also adds to the story, with the majority of the parts being recorded remotely by the musicians and sent in via email. To a large degree Cara simply didn’t know what she was going to get, although has described herself as lucky to have worked with some top notch musicians and singers. Admittedly, for the first time for her, not all of this was under the same roof together. It became a truly international project with musicians from America and England sending files back and forth, down the wires to Canada.
One of the English players is Liverpudlian guitarist and pedal steel player Scott Poley. He was one of the few who did fly in to work face to face with Cara. She credits him particularly with helping her out with the pre-production work, setting the musical keys, tempos and so forth. Her fellow Canadian Lewis Melville was another she collaborated closely with and he shares writing credits for six of the songs. Writing in this way also seems to have been liberating, adding a fresh perspective, allowing Cara to find new ways to express her feelings and ideas.
Then there are also four songs that Cara has chosen with two from the folk tradition and two more recent compositions. The first is The Ploughboy And The Cockney, which apparently can be traced back to C17th, although this is the slightly shorter form made popular by Tim Hart and Maddy Prior. He Moved Through The Fair changes the gender of the popular Irish ballad and Cara’s striking arrangement features her strong guitar technique and the unusual tones of a hurdy-gurdy.
The two more recent compositions are Mike Scott’s Bring ‘Em All In and the Korean war protest song Portland Town, from the pen of Derroll Adams. The former is meditative, an almost prayer like paean to the wonderful diversity of life. Its repeated mantra finds a subtle echo in the clever use of percussion, while Cara and JP Hoe duet in almost fervid rapture. Portland Town is quietly powerful, featuring Cara’s banjo and the excellent fiddle work of Jesse Zubot adding another of the album’s highlights.
Things start with Cara in strong voice. Only Love Can Save Me finds her calling on the powers of belief and faith as she remains convinced that love is still the answer to her prayers. But the other side of the coin is etched with betrayal in Bye Bye Love as Cara admits that, “I had no idea it came down on me out of the blue. There’s seemingly no way back as she sings, “Bye bye goodbye forever”. That heartache is also in the painful, personal details of House On Fire. Her voice too takes on more of a vulnerable tremor to devastating effect. Thankfully in Idaho, Off My Mind and It’s Gonna Be Alright, it’s clear that the healing process has begun. In the latter she even reassures us, “I’m gonna shine my light, I’m gonna stand and fight, I’m gonna be alright”.
Yet amidst all of the personal pain and emotional turmoil, one of the most heartbreaking moments is delivered by Dallaire, a song that touches on the horrors of the conflict of Rawanda. Romeo Dallaire was a general attached to the ill-starred United Nations attempt to stem the violent genocide that tore the country apart and is now retired, acting as a Senator and allied to various humanitarian causes. It’s a powerful song that touches on one of the great collective failings of our supposed moral arbiters, made all the more chilling by the implications of “I shook hands with the devil”.
Finally, Charged offers a wry take on a cross-border incident in which, Cara fell foul of the law. She at least manages to bring the humour out of her indignation, with a studio audience egging Cara on. Apparently singing the song to the prosecuting district attorney saw the charges dropped.
The handsome CD package gives prominence to a quote from H.A. Overstreet, “I have my own particular sorrows, loves, delights; and you have yours. But sorrow, gladness, yearning, hope, love, belong to all of us, in all times and in all places. Music is the only means whereby we feel these emotions in their universality.” That certainly wrings true here. This is a real life laid bare in all of its richness and complexity. It’s also great, art, a memorable record packed full of great songs, an album to share in and one to treasure.
Review by: Simon Holland
Darlingford is released in the UK on June 3rd 2013
June 2013 Tour Dates
7th Sligo, IE – Hawks Well Theatre 071 9161518 www.hawkswell.com/
8th Galway, IE – Roisin Dubh (upstairs) 353 91 509960 http://www.roisindubh.net/
9th Dublin, IE – Whelan’s Upstairs 1890 200 078 www.whelanslive.com/
10th Ballymore Eustace, IE – Mick Murphy’s
11th Limerick, IE – The Loft @ Locke Bar 353 61 413733 http://www.lockebar.com/
12th Ballybofey, IE – Balor Arts Centre 00353 74 9131840 http://www.balorartscentre.
13th Halifax, Yorkshire – Square Chapel Centre 01422 349422 www.squarechapel.co.uk
14th Southport – The Atkinson 01704 533 333 www.theatkinson.co.uk
16th Shrewsbury – Shrewsbury Folk Present @ The Hive 01743 234970 www.hiveonline.org.uk/
18th Birmingham, Kings Heath – The Kitchen Garden Café 0121 443 4725 www.kitchengardencafe.co.uk
19th Castle Hedingham, Essex – Hedingham Castle 01787 460261 http://www.hedinghamcastle.co.
21st Mylor, Cornwall – Mylor Session Summers Special www.mylorsessions.co.uk/
22nd Hindhead, Surrey – Grayshott Folk Club 01428 604 798 www.grayshottfolkclub.co.uk/
25th Battle, E Sussex – Mrs Yarrington’s @ The Senlac Inn 01424 773344 www.mrsyarringtons.me.uk
26th Lewes – Union Music Present @ The Elephant and Castle 01273474053 www.unionmusicstore.com/
27th Pontypridd, Wales – Muni Arts Centre 08000 147 111 www.rct-arts.co.uk
28th Porthcawl, Wales – Grand Pavilion 01656 815995 www.grandpavilion.co.uk/
29th Builth Wells, Wales – Wyeside Arts Centre 01982 552555 www.wyeside.co.uk
— Cara Luft (@CaraLuft) May 14, 2013