Promise Not to Think About Love
It Can't Be You
The City With No Rivers
Paris or Amsterdam
Never Let Me Go
From Now On
Tall Tall Shadow, the third album by Toronto singer-songwriter Basia Bulat, is the bravest album she has made. Raw and spectral, heartbroken, yet jubilant, these ten songs tell the story of a very hard year in the artist’s life and all the love that helped her through it.
Whereas the singer's past two LPs, including 2008's Polaris-nominated Oh, My Darling, were made in Montreal's all-analogue Hotel 2 Stango studio, Tall Tall Shadow is a more modern thing. This is a record with echo and reverb, electronic flutters and electric autoharp, voices that charge and incandesce around buzzing guitars, lonely piano and rattling percussion.
To get to this place, Bulat co-produced the album with, Tim Kingsbury and Mark Lawson. Kingsbury, a member of Arcade Fire, "can play anything and everything," she says. Lawson, who has worked on records with Akron/Family and Colin Stetson, and who won a Grammy for his work on Arcade Fire's The Suburbs, is a studio alchemist, someone who "hears things" hidden in songs, who is always keen to transform them.
They started recording in Toronto, at a reverberating 60-year-old dance hall. Once again, Bulat put together a band: her brother, the punk-inclined drummer Bobby Bulat; Holly Coish on keys and backing vocals; Kingsbury and Ben Whiteley on guitars and bass. One song features Whiteley's father, the folk legend Ken Whiteley, on gospel organ. But Tall Tall Shadow isn't acoustic folk music: like Beck's Sea Change or Buckingham Nicks, chord and strum are a launch-pad for wilder sounds.
Bulat's goal was to keep challenging herself. "Promise Not to Think About Love," with shimmying bass and dancing handclaps, is the poppiest track she has ever released. "It Can't Be You," played on an Andean charango, is one of the simplest. "Never Let Me Go" is all crescendo, a woman in a storm, and the title track reaches soaring for the sky: has there ever been a better showcase for Bulat's powerhouse voice? For her steam-train heart?
"Two months before I was due to begin recording, I suffered a deep loss," Bulat says. "I kind of started over." She started; and she didn't stop.
by Sean Michaels
"The results might rankle the odd folk purist, but they speak for themselves: Tall Tall Shadow, a record haunted by the recent passing of a good friend, is Bulat’s best and most distinctive work yet. Comparisons to the likes of Joni Mitchell, Neko Case and Sandy Denny can still be made, yes, but you can hear her truly finding her own voice here."
National Post Sessions invites musicians to perform stripped-down versions of their hits or favourite songs. This week, Basia Bulat performs Tall Tall Shadow.
Basia Bulat performed on Canada AM this morning to highlight her Juno-nomination for Tall Tall Shadow in Adult Alternative Album of the year.
If you missed it, click here to watch!
Basia will be on tour with The Head in The Heart shortly, check out the full tour dates here.
Les chansons de Tall Tall Shadow font de Basia Bulat plus qu'une simple chanteuse folk, de par la variété des arrangements et l'intensité des mélodies. Il s'agit de son album le plus audacieux, avance-t-elle. « Il n'y avait pas l'idée de départ de faire un gros changement, mais de raconter de la meilleure façon l'histoire des chansons, dit-elle. Je n'avais jamais autant expérimenté avec les arrangements et avec toutes les directions qu'une chanson peut prendre après avoir été enregistrée. »
Canada's legacy of female folk legends is secured in Basia Bulat, who has crafted the album of the year in Tall Tall Shadow. The 29-year-old singer/songwriter wields an autoharp, piano, organ, and a honeyed, raw voice that fans of Joni Mitchell and Feist would be foolish not buy into without prejudice post haste. Recorded in a naturally reverberating old dance hall and co-produced by Mark Lawson and Tim Kinsbury (a member of Arcade Fire), Tall Tall Shadow has a grandiose, ethereal sound that oozes comfort and joy, but the songs themselves are devastatingly tragic. Basia's plaintive vocal trilling on "It Can’t Be You" will break your heart; the cheerful doo-wop handclaps of "Promise Not To Think About Love" will stitch it back up again. With pure, powerful melodies, brutally honest lyrics, but always full of much hope, "Tall Tall Shadow" is a masterwork from a woman ready for prime-time.
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