Claire’s a three-times winner of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Female Vocalist Of The Year award – and her latest offering North By South (her tenth solo release, I believe) was nominated for Best Bluegrass Album at last year’s 59th Annual Grammy Awards. On this disc, inspired by her having recently re-married (to a Canadian – Toronto teacher Ian Gray), she pays homage to Canadian songwriters in her inimitable style, a sweet-and-pure-toned, elegant and easygoing though heartfelt, marriage of bluegrass and Americana.
Any such collection might reasonably include something by Gordon Lightfoot (here Claire tackles his genial It’s Worth Believing in duet with Bryan McDowell), David Francey (Empty Train), Bruce Cockburn (All The Diamonds In The World) and Ron Sexsmith (Cold Hearted Wind), while among the less expected contenders for writing credits might be Cape Breton songwriter J.P. Cormier (whose narrative Molly May is a disc highlight) and Old Man Luedecke (whose fleet-footed gospeller Kingdom Come features some nifty banjo from Bela Fleck and fiddle from Bryan (Bryan also plays two fiddle parts in tandem with Stuart Duncan on the quite gorgeous Willie P. Bennett song Andrew’s Waltz).
One standout track I’ve not hitherto mentioned is Claire’s touching new interpretation of Lynn Miles’ Black Flowers, while her vibrant treatment of Empty Train by David Francey brings a slightly funky air to proceedings and features great dobro and mandolin solos (courtesy of Jerry Douglas and Jarrod Walker respectively). Notwithstanding the indisputable fact, voiced by Claire herself in her liner declaration, that this collection represents but the tip of the iceberg of Canadian songwriting – paving the way for a volume 2, perhaps? – Claire manages to include one of her own compositions, the comparatively light-hearted song Milo (which features Bryan on slide mandolin), which nevertheless doesn’t disgrace its companions.
Finally, in addition to finding Claire herself in excellent voice, North By South, like its acclaimed predecessor Dear Sister, employs a crack team of around a dozen top-class musicians including her current Band lineup of Schatz, McDowell and Walker (but no room here to namecheck the rest!), whose signature contributions to the project should not be underestimated.
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