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|Written by Kris Millet|
|Friday, 17 June 2011 14:32|
Fresh from last year's studio flirtations with rock and pop, Ottawa-based singer songwriter Amanda Rheaume has taken a hard turn and hit her stride with the rootsy, rustic Light of Another Day, her first full-length album. Recorded with Ross Murray (Lynn Miles, Mighty Popo) in Chelsea, Quebec, the album sounds like it could have been made on Neil Young's California ranch, as contributions from Anders Drerup (pedal steel), Steve Marriner (harmonica), and Murray's skillful production (and percussion) allow Rheaume to ably explore the folk and twang of landmark albums like Harvest.
It's a new/old sound for Rheaume, who's early recordings were folk-inspired. The artistic gains made are evidenced on the direct, plaintive "Open Door"-an acoustic guitar and gentle brushes propel long, lonely harmonica notes, setting the tone for Rheaume's paean to simplicity and emotional honesty, "truth and grace"-perfect for early morning listening. "Better Days Ahead" is more boisterous, kicking up the fun with shouty backing vocals and percussion from, of all things, a cheese tray. The rhythmic effect is reminiscent of the mysterious snaps on Led Zeppelin's "Boogie with Stu". The third track, "Rooting Down" ups the emotional ante with pulsating acoustic picking and an earnest prairie-swept vocal line that evoke Joni Mitchell. Sparse slabs of lap steel provide a compelling, Alt Country backdrop. It all adds up to a rich, gorgeous work.
From there, Light of Another Day moves through some more country-influenced material before hitting two stunningly re-imagined tracks that originally appear on Amanda's 2009 EP, Kiss Me Back. "Be Your Enemy" has gone from a pleasant power pop rendering to a stripped-down, heart-tugging rock-a-boogie. The rolling groove and loose instrumental pauses allow the song to breathe better, and superb backing vocals by Drerup cut to the heart. It seemed like a puzzling inclusion to this reviewer at first, but she has hit a homerun here. "Kiss Me Back" also reappears and benefits from a slowed-down re-rendering, as a smitten Rheaume yearns for simple signs of requited love from a partner. In this sparse reinterpretation, the hooks carry extra weight and lyrics a heightened sincerity. These two tracks prove to be the album standouts, along with "On Your Shores" and its brooding R&B-influenced acoustic groove that builds to a pretty chorus, "Love, it's hard to know where it begins and ends."
Rheaume has always been a solid crafter of pop hooks, but on Light of Another Day her lyrics step to the forefront asshe eschews the introspective, confessional approach of her past work to examine the people around her, "way down in the trenches". Leadoff track "Let Yourself Breathe" and the somber "Shadows of the Past" come from a person freshly delivered from the belly of an emotional storm, with wisdom to share. "Shadows" is particularly stark, where the song's character decides to "burn all bridges cause there's nowhere to hide". The bridge soars and communal vocals enter in affirmation, "I'm not going to live my life in the shadows of the past." "Bread Winning" may sound a little hokey at first, but grows on the listener with it's fun, ham-fisted take on the plight of the traveling songsmith striving to make a living, and the stress and splendors along the way.
Her storytelling approach stumbles a bit on "Push On", and ode to an overseas soldier "sleeping on desert ground, [...] insurgents all around" that treads into modern country territory. Rheaume has spent time in Afghanistan entertaining Canada's troops, so I have no doubt that her intent here was noble, but it's hard to get too emotionally attached to characters safely "home, changing diapers, making lunches" given the greater context of the conflict she is alluding to. The song does serve to bookend the album thematically, along with "Open Door", with the message of staying positive in the face of adversity. It makes the album prescient in these days of uncertainty, as well as faithful to the thematic roots of folk, and country, the two genres to which this album is most owing.
After some genre experimentation, Light of Another Day shows Amanda Rheaume honing a sound well-suited to her songwriting style, which should help her reach a whole new fan base. The reinterpretations of "Be Your Enemy" and "Kiss Me Back" alone make the album worth checking out, while the remainder highlights a person who has made big strides in realizing her craft, and is not afraid to take chances or tackle difficult issues. We are only beginning to hear the fruits of this winning formula.
Track picks: "Be Your Enemy", "Rooting Down", "On Your Shores", "Kiss Me Back"
Amanda Rheaume will be performing at Ottawa's Bluesfest July 16, and will kick off her Canadian tour with a date at the Rainbow Bistro - July 21.
Tags: amanda rheaume, art, bluesfest, country, folk, local, music, ottawa, possibility, singer songwriter