The Tempest of Old
The Tempest of Old, Halifax-based Gabrielle Papillon’s fifth album, is not an album I would typically address here at Fervor Coulee.
-As stated within the one-sheet, the disc is “big, orchestral, and defiant,” and is much too poppy (read: elaborate, smooth, layered, produced) for me to consider within even my liberal definition of ‘roots’ music.
-Instead of fiddle, it features violin.
-In addition to the core band, it is populated by more than a dozen instrumental and vocal guests.
-While Papillon would comfortably fit on most modern folk festival stages, she would do so alongside the likes of Loreena McKinnitt, Dan Mangan, Daniel Lanois, and Joel Plaskett…none of whom I would consider booking for my folk festival.
-There is a hipster vibe around the album that, after spending an afternoon on and around Edmonton’s Whyte Avenue, I just don’t need.
-I can’t sing-along with any of the songs.
Still, each time I place this recording in the player, I am again enchanted.
-Gabrielle Papillon! What a name!
-It features banjo on six tracks, always a positive. Not bluegrass banjo, but still, banjo.
-It features a song with Kentucky in its title.
-Her voice, which simmers along minor chords.
-Lyrics that seldom follows a narrative, yet somehow create a ‘story’ more than a collection of interconnected images.
Papillon, who has called herself a Haligonian for a few years since moving from Montreal and before that Winnipeg, is a striking singer. She reminds me of no one else, approaching her vocals as an instrument as flexible, as adaptable and susceptible to mood, as guitar. The bitterness and challenge of “Brother, Throw Down” is very different from the loneliness and isolation of “Kentucky In the Dark” or the spirited bombast of “Got You Well.”
Think Robert Plant’s transformative progression through Raising Sand and Band of Joy, and you begin to sense from where Papillon approaches her music.
Like Plant, Papillon appears to trust in her producer, in this case Daniel Ledwell, as he guides her songs toward some unrecognized point on the horizon. It works, but there is much more to it. A producer can only mold, maneuver, and propose so much. The artist is responsible for the songs, for the arc, and for the larger vision. Papillon quite confidently possesses and reveals these elements.
The album’s second track, “With Your Help,” may be The Tempest of Old’s finest: punctuated by Corinna Rose’s (whose own music I was quite pleased to discover through this recording) banjo notes, Michael Belyea’s percussion, and some combination of Lidwell’s pedal steel and Nicolas Maclean’s guitar chords, a vibrant canvas of sound is created, all supporting Papillon’s vibrant, strong voice.
The Tempest of Old is a fine album that doesn’t fit preconceived notions and expectations.
I don’t listen to CBC Radio 2 and Radio 3 because too little of the music featured there makes a connection with my life, my experiences, as a 50+ curmudgeon: I don’t know what ‘adult alternative’ means. Since I also don’t understand what indie pop, indie-folk, or folk pop mean, I suppose I could nominate this one for all those categories.
Instead, I’m just going to recommend it as an album you may just be happy to discover.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. I am currently doing a lot of listening as part of my responsibilities as a Polaris Music Prize juror, and consequently not as much writing. Well, that is the best excuse I can come up with anyways. Apologies if you feel I’ve ignored an album you’ve sent me.