Cara Luft’s latest album has been available for a couple of months now though I’m not sure whether it’s been properly launched on this side of the Atlantic – maybe that will have to wait till Cara next makes it over here. Whatever, Darlingford is a cracking album, folk music for all seasons that taps heavily into the folk revival of the sixties and seventies, from the nicely retro artwork on the cover to the choice of covering a traditional song like The Ploughboy and The Cockney, best known in a version by Tim Hart and Maddy Prior.
Solo albums are rarely truly solo efforts, and this particular one features no less than twenty musicians, as recording progressed in snatched opportunities at various points across Canada and the UK. The spirit which ties this work together belies such a piecemeal approach and Cara Luft’s own vibrant performance with voice and guitar is at the heart of it all. Most of these songs are Cara Luft originals (half of them co-written with Lewis Melville) and a lot of them relate to the aftermath of a break-up. Writing with honesty, immediacy and surprisingly good humour, these songs follow her through the days from leaving the shared home at short notice to the calm restorative waters of spending time with family and old friends, finding herself ready to face the world again. The heart-on-her-sleeve nature of her writing is very winning; in laying out her pain and insecurities, she makes it easier for us to face our own, and that is very much part of the job of the artist.
The other theme that crops up repeatedly is some strikingly old-time religious imagery as God and the devil do battle for possession of her soul. Being an atheist myself I have to recast these songs in terms I can cope with but there’s no doubting the vivid sincerity of her own view of the world, and I can’t help but get a vicarious thrill from the impassioned nature of her involvement in this spiritual battle. One song written in these terms is Dallaire, named after the Canadian general in charge of a UN mission in Rwanda that was unable to prevent the 1994 genocide.
Musically, Darlingford covers a huge range of the folk idiom; banjo and acoustic guitar are frequently in the foreground but there’s some splendidly raw fiddle playing from Jesse Zubot, a host of enthusiastic foot-stomping and handclapping, a string section, loads of harmony vocals and even a bit of electric guitar on the wonderful story song, Charged!, where Cara Luft’s folk singer persona gives rein to the inner rock chick – this was recorded with audience participation at a show, and if this track doesn’t put a smile on your face, I don’t know what will.
I don’t think there’s a weak song here, I love the whole album, but particular mention must go to a couple of covers: in Cara’s version it is He Moved Through the Fair and she keeps it pretty simple, a little hurdy gurdy and a haunting pulse from the organ bass pedals accompanying her guitar playing. It is possibly the most evocative version of this song that I’ve ever heard; the spooky instrumentation contrasts with the sweetness of her voice to her great effect. Another wonderful surprise comes with her take on Mike Scott’s Bring ‘em All In. His plea for social inclusion gains great dignity and weight from her arrangement, and in particular it’s the gently insistent chant of “bring ‘em all in” from Cara and co-vocalist JP Hoe that makes this a heartfelt prayer for a better world. This is a wonderful album all round, and now I’m itching to check out the back catalogue.
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