Allison de Groot and Tatiana Hargreaves’ 2019 debut was a highlight of the year before Covid, and Hurricane Clarice emerges as we enter the sixth or seventh false reprieve of the global pandemic. Recorded under unique circumstances, this new album is as exciting, engaging, and challenging as that previous offering.
Beyond the music itself, which is stunning in its power, execution, and honesty, the stories behind and encompassing Hurricane Clarice are as intriguing.
The album was recorded over the course of four days with the duo playing two sets of music, as if in concert within the studio, daily front to back and back to front. In this manner, the ebb and flow of the music, one tune or song leading into the next, allowed their natural vibrancy for performance to colour the music. The resulting charge of energy provides Hurricane Clarice with an intimate, live atmosphere that captures and reflects the appreciated spontaneity of old-time, stringband music.
Given current events in Ukraine, having de Groot’s Aunt Tillie speaking Ukrainian to open “Hurricane Clarice/Brushy Fork of John’s Creek” is germane. The pair deliberately make family connections throughout the album, including early in the set through a tune entitled “Wellington” which de Groot says brings to mind her grandmother, her Winnipeg apartment, and its view of the Assiniboine. Later, “Ostrich with Pearls” captures the voices of their grandmothers of Brooklyn, Detroit, and again Winnipeg, paired with music recalling the recent past.
Family runs through other selections. Rose Maddox (Maddox Brothers and Rose) is a Hargreaves favourite, and the take of “Each Season Changes You” presented herein quickly becomes a memorable interpretation; absolutely brilliant. The family stories behind the sourcing of “Nancy Blevins” and “Dead and Gone (Hen Cackled)” further contribute to the sense of connection running through Hurricane Clarice. The old-time musician’s concern with documenting the journey of tunes through history is always appreciated, and within the notes de Groot and Hargreaves provide credit and insight into their compositions and those they choose to draw upon.
Hargreaves’ singing throughout the album is terrific, no more so than on “I Would Not Live Always,” a definite highlight of 2022. Originating with inspiration from an Alice Gerrard photograph, this song comes to life via Hargreaves’ impassioned commitment. The pair sing “The Banks of the Miramichi” in the old-time way, blending distinctively in unison. The joy taken in the creation of this album is apparent. Producer Phil Cook has seemingly captured the pair at the peak of their collaboration, circular notes from de Groot’s banjo ideally placed to counter Hargreaves’ bowing.
De Groot mentions, “I’m tired of the perceived goal being to push the music forward.” I believe her argument is that old-time traditions are sufficiently rich to stand with their own strength, and should musicians find paths toward advancing the music (whatever that means) it is because it retains connection to the home, family, and community legacies of those inspiring today’s musicians.
The design of the CD package (Dan MacDonald Studios) with photography by Tasha Miller is further reason to purchase the physical album; the cover art is exceptional.
Until Allison De Groot and Tatiana Hargreaves find their way to my part of the prairies, I will need to be content listening, and re-listening, to Hurricane Clarice. It is certainly one of this writer’s early 2022’s Americana favourites.