Terra Lightfoot delivers on high expectations with New Mistakes
TERRA LIGHTFOOT “NEW MISTAKES” (SONIC UNYON)
It’s been a hell of a ride, these past few years, for Hamilton’s Terra Lightfoot. Her second album, “Every Time My Mind Runs Wild,” got a soft launch in the spring of 2015 to expectations ranging from mild to low to zero. Yet almost everyone who heard it realized it was the arrival of a major new singer-songwriter; everyone who saw her realized what a powerhouse performer and guitarist she was. And lots of people saw her: plum festival gigs galore, plus opening slots for Blue Rodeo, Gordon Lightfoot, Daniel Lanois, Rheostatics, Bruce Cockburn (you may have seen her at the Centre in the Square with him last month) and other dream dates. Everyone fell in love with Terra Lightfoot, and deservedly so.
Expectations are sky-high this time out. And she has no problem delivering.
The rockers are bigger. The ballads more intimate. But the real leap here is her narrative voice on tracks like “Norma Gale,” where the John Prine influence, which she references in lyrics elsewhere, manifests itself. Behind her, her crack band add all kinds of tasty bits underneath the swaggering singer up front, never more so on the surefire set-closer “Hold You,” where every member of the band truly shines — as does the guest saxophonist who shows up in the last 30 seconds of the song.
When classic rock stations claim they don’t have any room for new artists on their playlists, Terra Lightfoot should stroll through their doors with this new record and give them all a swift kick in the rear.
She opens for Whitehorse at Massey Hall in Toronto on Dec. 8, a chance to see two of the best Canadian records of 2017 come to life.
Stream: “You Get High,” “Norma Gale,” “Hold You”
GEOFF BERNER “CANADIANA GROTESQUEIQUA” (COAX)
What happens when a klezmer artist makes a country record? Geoff Berner has certainly posed more unusual questions over the course of his 17-year recording career. The Vancouver accordionist and acerbic singer-songwriter is a satirist of the highest order, one capable of extracting hilarity from horrors and providing the most emotionally complex evening of music you’re likely to encounter at a live show.
On his seventh album, Berner shifts away from his klezmer escapades and taps Neko Case guitarist Paul Rigby to make something approximately a country record, filled with the kinds of songs that made him a favourite cover choice for his friends the Be Good Tanyas and Corb Lund. It’s the most musically conservative album he’s made in years, but it’s by no means meant to be easy listening.
It opens with “The Ghost of Terry Fox,” one of the most tragic tales in Canadian celebrity: the story of Steve Fonyo, the cancerstricken amputee who actually completed Fox’s mission, but suffered from second-banana syndrome in the eyes of an indifferent public, racked up several criminal convictions, was stripped of his Order of Canada, and was the victim of a home invasion in Surrey, B.C. Fonyo was the subject of a 2015 Alan Zweig documentary, and a musical by Berner, from which this song originates. Berner takes a similarly biographical approach to “Gino Odjick,” a song about the Vancouver Canucks’ “Algonquin Assassin,” an on-ice enforcer and residential school survivor who, along with other prominent Indigenous Canadians, met the Pope to hear an apology from the Catholic Church.
On a lighter note, Berner mocks southern Ontario country singers who articulate with a “Phoney Drawl,” and warns his peers “Don’t Play Cards For Money With Corby Lund.” “Hustle Advisory” references Leonard Cohen, Jesus, and Justin Trudeau, and features Frazey Ford on backing vocals.
There’s no surer sign of Berner’s continued songwriting strength than “Super Subtle Folk Song,” written during yet another summer of wildfires in B.C. and pipeline debates across the country, in which Berner sings: “My brother was being torn apart by panthers / So I bought a bunch of panthers as pets / My dad was dying of lung cancer / so I bought my kids a carton of cigarettes / Future kin will say we were a-holes / we were just trying to fit into our scene / And while the fire’s still burning / let’s make a bunch more gasoline.” That he does so with one of the catchiest melodies on a record full of earworms ensures that the message sinks in. More important, for a man who has often used a blunt hammer to make his point, titling a track “Super Subtle Folk Song” may be a self-deprecating jab, but it also proves that Berner is stronger when he’s subversive.
Geoff Berner is playing with Rae Spoon on Oct. 18 at the ANAF in Guelph.
Stream: “The Ghost of Terry Fox,” “Super Subtle Folk Song,” “Gino Odjick”