Without going into unnecessary, irrelevant detail, for me, the first three weeks of 2017 were extremely challenging. As always in such trying times I sought comfort and rejuvenation by immersing myself in art. And, to that end, as if delivered by a guardian angel, along with a couple of other life-affirming albums, Abigail Lapell’s Hide Nor Hair arrived in my lap in a most timely manner.
Upon listening to this 10-song collection of fine-spun folk songs for the first time, my troubles evaporated, at least for its half-hour duration, but then the quiet power of this music could likely soothe the most savage of beasts. In this cacophonous world, I am increasingly drawn to sparse, spacious and atmospheric music – Max Richter being a current obsession – where subtlety is key, and less is more. In the folk realm, Lapell’s second full-length is a prime example of what I mean – a calming listening experience as much about mood as it is about storytelling.
Hide Nor Hair has landed six years on from (a couple of EPs aside) Abigail Lapell’s debut, Great Survivor, and sees a distinct departure from her earlier efforts. Despite active involvement in the indie folk scenes of Montréal and her current Toronto base for over fifteen years, the new album marks a move away from bedroom recordings to her first full collaboration with a producer, namely Chris Stringer, whose previous clients include Elliott Brood, Jill Barber and Timber Timbre. Stringer has worked wonders on Hide Nor Hair, pushing Lapell’s limpid voice to the fore, while allowing her band for this project to create magic just behind it.
The proficiency of Abigail Lapell’s nimble, confident acoustic guitar picking should be noted, as should the sympathetic contributions of said band. Providing haunting viola and backing/harmony vocals is the richly talented Rachael Cardiello, whom I have had the joy of witnessing live on two occasions. On drums (and two super-cool, Morricone-esque whistling solos on Night Bird & Morning Bird) is multi-instrumentalist, Benjamin Hermann, while Joe Ernewein (bass guitar), Mike Eckert (of the Treasures; pedal steel) and Jessica Moore (backing vocals) complete the quietly formidable line-up.
Abigail Lapell (who, for your interest, has in the past completed a tour entirely by bicycle, and – what? – another two by canoe) possesses a persuasive voice bearing echoes of many of the greats. In particular, I plucked out traces of Natalie Merchant, Sharon Van Etten, Frazey Ford and Sandy Denny, which should give some idea of its quality and purity. She uses it with skill, gently relating tales of relationship incompatibility (Diamond Girl and Indigo Blue); preparing for death (Fur & Feathers); being swept along by a political protest, specifically Toronto’s G20 riots in 2010 (Hostage Town); and, of all things, the world’s (allegedly) largest flag, in Aqaba, Jordan (The Flag Song)!
The latter is one of two gorgeous piano ballads, but the top honour – quite literally – for the standout track in an album full of them, goes to the other. Linked to The Flag Song, but only by title, Jordan was awarded the Ontario Arts Council’s Colleen Peterson Songwriting Award in 2016. Established in 2003, this prestigious prize was set up by Shirley Richardson, in tribute to the memory of her sister, the late country/folk singer, Colleen Peterson (1950-1996), a pivotal figure in the evolution of Canadian roots music.
Such recognition is fully deserved, as Jordan (which Lapell states, whether jesting or not, concerns “dirty dreams”) is an immaculately crafted song of stunning simplicity. From a personal perspective, it is one tenth of a dreamy listening experience that arrived with perfect timing as one of the factors to cathartically help put the wheels back on the derailed beginning of my year. But even if all is perfectly well in your world, I am pretty certain you still will love the beauteous Hide Nor Hair just as much as I do.
Out Now via Coax Records
Photo Credit: Jen Squires