Hailing from Ottawa, Amanda Rheaume is of Métis heritage, which is to say her roots lie in one of Canada’s aboriginal peoples, a fact to which she pays tribute on Keep A Fire, her second full-length album and the first to explore a more electric sound.
A sort of musical Who Do Think You Are, the idea for the album arose from her travels across Canada, during which time she found herself encountering previously unknown branches of the family in such places as Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta, gathering together a wealth of stories along the way.
The album began to take shape with Ancient Rime, a folksy, acoustic based number evocative of Joan Baez, which was inspired by her maternal grandfather, Thomas Arthur Irvine, a crew member on HMCS Labrador, the icebreaker that charted the Canadian Arctic and the first ship to circumnavigate North America.
Furthering her research led her to northern Manitoba, where her paternal French-Canadian great-grandfather, Origene, and Ojibway great-grandmother, Stella, were ostracised by both communities on account of their mixed-race marriage. This finds expression in Keep A Fire In The Rain, a song set in 1934, where she talks of her great-grandmother serving as the tribe’s midwife, she and her husband living, somewhat symbolically, in a cabin he’d built between the reserve and the mines.
The jauntily strummed A.G.B Bannatyne travels further back in time to tell of her paternal great-great-great grandfather, one of Manitoba’s founding fathers and a friend of Louis Riel, spiritual leader of the Métis and Canadian folk hero who led resistance movements against the Canadian government.
Her paternal great grandparents are also the subject of two numbers. Her voice sounding like a cross between Baez and Judy Small, So Much To Gain is a simple, gently fingerpicked acoustic number about the family having to up sticks from Manitoba when the father was posted to Fort Norman in the North West Territory while the drum thumping, fiddle-fired, rock-driven Not This Time tells of their storm-tossed voyage across Great Slave Lake, the mother and her six children travelling behind the steampaddle in a barge that came adrift in the storm and was lost for two days.
It’s not all so specific, the mid-tempo You Walk Beside Me is a tribute to the inspirational strength of her great grandmother, and, Rheaume in keening vocal form, Passed Down The Line is a twangy acoustic strum, with added mandolin, about what we inherit from past generations.
Nor is it all family-centric. Conjuring thoughts of a swaggering Sheryl Crow, bluesy rocking country Home On The Road is a thank you note to those who opened their homes and put up her and guitarist John MacDonald when they were touring, Write You A Letter a heartfelt slow-building number (melodically somewhat reminiscent of Radiohead’s Creep) about letting go the pain and anger of a broken relationship and, with its anthemic chorus, stand-out opener Strongest Heart, a reminder that, whatever life throws at you, “love will always embrace you” and, if you’re prepared to open your heart to both yourself and others, then it will endure.
In support of the album, Rheaume is embarking on a profile-raising UK tour in August and you’re thoroughly recommended to stoke the flames, offers of overnight accommodation probably wouldn’t go amiss, either.
Review by: Mike Davies
UK & European Tour Dates
22 – The Bronte Centre Rathfriland, N. Ireland
23 – Ardhowen Theatre Enniskillen, N. Ireand
26 – Arklow Bay Hotel Arklow, S. Ireland
29 – The Klondyke Club Manchester, UK
30 – Guitar Bar Nottingham, UK
31 – Marnhull Acoustic Sessions Marnhull, Dorset TICKETS
02 – Greennote London, UK
03 – Curzon Cinema, Clevedon, Nr. Bristol
04 – Nice N Sleazy, Glascow, Scotland
05 – House Concert, Edinburgh, Scotland
06 – Triton Inn, Brough, Yorkshire
07 – Kirton Town Hall, Kirton-in-Lindsey
13 – Lindencult, Weilburg, DE
14 – Het Keizershof, Turnhout, BE
21 – Kulturecafe Litchug, Colgone, DE
25 – Erbse, Dillenburg, DE
26 – Erlesenes Wesercafe, Bremen, DE
27 – Courage Frauenzentrum, Magdeburg, DE
28 – Musik Star, Norderstedt, DE
03 – Panorama Museum, Bad Frankenhasuen, DE
09 – Kulturpunkt, Flawil, Switzerland
10 – Mundwerk, Thun, Switzerland
Self-released, August 18
Photo Credit: Sean Sisk Photography