Globe & Mail – ESSENTIAL TRACKS
Dallaire by Cara Luft, from Darlingford (Blue Case Tunes)
“It can’t be done, so don’t even try to turn away from the affecting insistence of Canada’s Luft, who sings like an angel named Joni or Alanis and sees through the eyes of a peacekeeper who stood in blood and shook hands with the devil.”
Wildy’s World (USA)
Cara Luft began performing at the age of four, singing and accompanying herself on dulcimer. By the age of eleven the Calgary native was teaching herself guitar, learning alternate tunings and various picking techniques. Luft soon added banjo to her repertoire, giving her a solid arsenal of instruments to back up her strong and distinctive alto voice. A founding member of The Wailin’ Jennies, Luft has also cut an impressive swath as a solo artist. Luft came to our attention here at Wildy’s World with her 2007 album, The Light Fantastic, a 4 ½ star gem that still ranks as a personal favorite. Luft returned in 2012 with her third solo album, a splendiferous mix of folk, Celtic, country and even shades of pop music that is ever so much more than anything she’s done before.
Darlingford begins with a look at salvation in the form of “Only Love Can Save Me”, a splendid mix of country and folk sounds that wrap around Luft’s singular voice like a blanket. The song is uplifting and joyful, yet full of a stylistic and compositional complexity that is musically satisfying. “Bye Bye Love” is an emotionally and musically mature post-mortem on a relationship lost. Absent the vitriol common in pop/country kiss off songs, Luft makes a much more damning case for moving on by speaking straight from the heart. This is a beautiful examination of love’s detritus, complete with gorgeous vocal harmonies that appear from nowhere to accent some of her more poignant discoveries. Luft’s cover of Mike Scott’s “Bring ‘Em All In” is powerful to say the least. The melancholy hope of the song grows into a powerful determination that will have you on the edge of your seat. Delving back into the healing process, Luft delivers the powerful slow epiphany of “House On Fire”. This testament to the permanence of loss and the healing power of friendship is unforgettable, feeling both decidedly intimate and universal at the same time.
“The Ploughboy And The Cockney” is an interesting diversion that is more than it first appears. The musical performance here is top notch, of course, but Luft proves her talent as a story teller with a light yet knowing vocal touch. Listeners can decide whether there is more to the story in light of the full cycle of songs presented here. “Idaho” is an exploration of new beginnings, new faith and new perspectives. The joyous feel of the song has an almost Paul Simon sound but with definite country flair. Luft is able to rock out a bit here in the midst of a recovery she never foresaw.
Genocide and social responsibility whirl around the story of a man whose heroics are sometimes deemed a failure. “Dallaire” explores the perspective of Lt. General Romeo Dallaire, who oversaw international forces in Rwanda in 1993 and 1994, at the height of the genocide campaign of Hutu extremists. This is a touching and poignant look at how we struggle to do the right thing, often failing even as we succeed. Luft returns to her personal milieu with “Off My Mind”. Here we hear some of the anger one might expect post breakup, but the quiet reserve of class that Luft clarifies it all with is refreshing. It doesn’t dull the lyrical daggers she throws, but it does make them harder to deflect.
“Portland Town” explores the ravages of war from the perspective of a mother who sees her three sons go off to battle, never to return. The dark Celtic style arrangement gives the song a quiet urgency that matches perfectly to the subject matter, and Luft’s voice is fully in the moment with an urgent grace. Luft moves on to reverse prepositions and propositions with her emotive and stunning take on “He Moved Through The Fair”. Her voice conveys a story of love with an elemental power that is breathtaking.
Luft takes a somewhat lighter tone on “My Darling One”, an incantation to a beloved child or perhaps even to a prospective love. The bouncy feel of this tune marks an emotional turning point, as the scars of loss begin to fall away. That inertia grows on “It’s Gonna Be Alright”, as faith turns to confidence and ambition to make tomorrow a better day. Darlingford closes out with “Charged!” – a bonus track born of a real life border bust. The song is a fun and entertaining reminder of how quickly things can go awry in the hands of Federal power, and how we rely on the humanity of one another to straighten out the simple-minded grind of political machines.
It might seem a cliché phrase, but Cara Luft weaves magic through every nook and cranny of Darlingford. In the process she turns a bit of personal tragedy into songwriting gold, exploring themes of love, loss, faith, recovery and choosing a new direction with lyrical aplomb and a near-perfect understanding of musical setting, mood and composition. Luft’s ability to tell a story through song has never been more in focus than it is on Darlingford, and it wouldn’t be hard to imagine Luft collecting her second Juno Award based on this effort. Darlingford is easily one of the finest collections to cross this desk in 2012, and can be nothing less than a Wildy’s World Certified Desert Island Disc. 5 stars/5
Many will remember Cara Luft as a founder member of Canada’s wonderful Wailin’ Jennys; eventually leaving that trio in 2006 to resume her solo career armed with an impressive repertoire comprising covers (contemporary and traditional) as well as original songs and a noticeably interesting guitar-playing style that was sometimes said to be influenced by the folkier aspects of Led Zeppelin… After releasing a well-received album The Light Fantastic and the Black Water Side EP, things had gone a touch quiet for Cara, until the release of this latest project, which brought the depths and breadths of her talent straight back to our consciousness.
The album title derives from Cara’s penchant for recording in small, intimate venues – this one being the Zion United Calvin Church in Darlingford (which is, I believe, in Manitoba), one of many similarly-configured locations used for this album. And small and intimate in scale the recordings and arrangements may be, there’s a rich, fully detailed sound to the proceedings too, which is in no small way due to the supportive presence of her worthy crew of musicians that includes Andrew Downing, Mark Mariash, Andrew Collins, Jesse Zubot, Scott Poley, Lloyd Peterson and Damon Mitchell, playing a selection of mainly acoustic instruments with banjo, mandolin, violin and various species of guitar (including “an abundance of vintage Martins”!) to the fore.
Cara’s own songs can be judged disc highlights; I specially rated the old-timey-sounding House On Fire, the string-quartet-bedecked Dallaire, the passionately bluesy Off My Mind, the delicately affectionate My Darling One and the catchy opener Only Love Can Save Me, but it seems Cara’s unable to turn in a weak composition – even the bonus live cut, the hilarious been-there-done-that true-story Charged!, which in lesser hands would be in danger of wearing thin quite fast, survives repeat plays (I won’t spoil it for you!). Of the covers, the traditional Portland Town has plenty of life, while the mournful beauty of He Moved Through The Fair is tellingly conveyed in an (unusually) insistently rhythmic arrangement; only the Mike Scott/Waterboys number Bring ‘Em All In feels unremarkable in this illustrious company (and that’s probably the fault of the song itself).
The intimate yet understated feel of the recording accentuates Cara’s own intense degree of accomplishment, and this is an album you need to hear and treasure while seeking out the next opportunity to catch Cara’s incomparable presence in a live setting.
She’s Got It All: Cara Luft writes the best album of her career
There is an idea, commonly held, that great art can only be produced in times of great turbulence, Cara Luft knows this well. Her latest record, Darlingford, stems from a crumbling relationship and the despair that followed. “There area lot of amazing songwriters out there who don’t write from really intense emotional spaces, yet they write these beautiful, amazing songs, whatever they’re about,” Luft says. “For me, I find this immense urge to create when I’ve gone through a difficult time.”
After years of live shows and hastily-recorded cassettes, Luft released her first EP, Tragedy of the Commons, in 1997. Since then, she has recorded a slew of material, including two albums with the Juno-winning Wailin’ Jennys. Her last album, The Light Fantastic, was praised by critics and fans alike; Darlingford, though, is even better. From “Only Love Can Save Me,” a simple song featuring ringing open-tuned guitars, to “Charged,” a raucous live capture, the album is a journey from heartbreak to recovery.
Most of the album was committed to tape in Darlingfod, Manitoba, where Luft and songwriter Lewis Melville sequestered themselves to write, record and heal. “I purposely co-wrote a lot of the material with somebody else,” Luft says of Melville’s influence. “I needed somebody who could come and offer honest feedback.”
It worked. Darlingford treads the line between the personal and the universal. The rawness of Luft’s emotional state is plain, but it is framed in terms anyone can understand.
Unlike many of her contemporaries, Luft’s talent stretches beyond writing and singing. She is by any measure a fantastic guitar player, and Darlingford is a how-to manual for aspiring folk players. But that doesn’t mean Luft’s talent is obvious to everyone. “I’ve been battling, probably for the past 8 years, to get people to perceive me as a singer, songwriter guitarist extraordinaire, so when people look at the definition of what I am, it goes beyond singer-songwriter,” she says.
Darlingford, then, is the complete package: a collection of songs arranged on an emotional arc that stretches from total collapse to grinning recovery, a showcase for Luft’s not inconsiderable talent, and one of the best folk records of the year. – by Alex MacPherson
FlyinShoes Roots Music Webzine (UK)
“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.” – John Davy
“This is probably the strongest and most interesting release that Cara Luft has put out yet, either as a member of the Wailin’ Jenny’s or as a solo performer. Maybe it is because of the personal issues that she had to deal with while recording the album. Many of the songs are intensely personal and hint (occasionally blatantly) at the feelings of betrayal and loss. Other songs showcase the myriad aspects of Luft’s musical personality, be it spiritual singer-songwriter, the folk rock guitarist, the traditional (and neo-trad) folkie. There is also a rare collaboration with her father, Barry, that rated among my favourites, if only because of its novelty.
Another one of the highlights of the album is the musical telling of the story of Romeo Dallaire. Within these songs, the Dallaire tune and the ones that seem to be far more personal in nature, there is evidence of a strong individual fighting her demons and the cards that she has been dealt. That’s what makes this a powerful, uplifting album in spite of some of the material.
This is also one of Luft’s best releases from a strictly musical perspective. She seems to have amassed a greater coterie of cohorts for this release, among them a string quartet, Jesse Zubot (violin), a Hurdy Gurdy and accordion player and many others. These musicians add fuller, more complex sound to Luft’s tunes than I have ever heard.”
Earbuds & Ticket Stubs
Cara Luft’s Darlingford is a lush treat for folk lovers
Winnipeg’s folk/roots singer-songwriter Cara Luft is not a new player to the game. As a founding member of the Wailin’ Jennys, she’s won Junos and received accolades both in North America and across the pond. In her latest full-length album, she steps into the spotlight alone with her soulful voice, skillful interpretation of folk classics, and unending warmth.
Luft draws from a bevy of musical influences on Darlingford, ranging from spirituals to British and North American folk classics. Her lyrical inspiration is similarly varied, from Gen. Romeo Dallaire’s experiences in Rwanda, to the sudden departure of her life partner. What remains consistent is the optimism that glows, carried by the timbre of Luft’s lovely alto voice.
Luft must be given credit for her work in the producer chair as well. The sound is humble but big, warm but distinct. Some of my favourite tracks on this album include opening track “Only Love Can Save Me” (streaming above), the chorus of which you’ll find yourself humming the second or third time through. “Portland Town” displays Luft’s instrumental talents, with some masterful banjo-picking, alternative timing and tuning.
Although Darlingford was released back in the summer, it seems more apt in these days of blazing leaves and impending cold. It will envelop you in rich colours and textures, and I’ll wager that you’ll still be in love with it after the chill of winter has long passed.
Vue Weekly – Edmonton, AB
“The latest album for former Wailin’ Jennys member Cara Luft is the singer-songwriter’s first in five years, and it’s been well worth the wait. Luft’s down-home folk tells stories of personal struggle in a universal way that will strike a chord with listeners. Luft does not play the victim, but rather maintains a sense of strength and optimism throughout the album. Darlingford, which is the name of the small town in Manitoba where the album was recorded, shows off Luft’s impeccable storytelling abilities, such as on the humorous track “Charged,” which tells the tale of getting caught at the US border with someone else’s marijuana. That song closes off the album on a different tone than the rest of the tracks, which talk of love lost, letting go and moving on, as on the standout “Off My Mind,” a send off to the man who did her wrong.”
Georgia Straight – Vancouver, BC
Some artists do their best work when they’re pretty damn blue, and Cara Luft just might be one of them. Based on the songs here, and on some remarks she made during a recent house concert, Luft wrote most of Darlingford during the dark months that followed a betrayal and a breakup—and it shows.
On “Bye Bye Love”, the former Wailin’ Jenny sings like a heartbroken bird, mourning her empty home and her absent lover. On “House on Fire”, she’s seeking solace at a friend’s place, weeping in the bathrobe that bastard bought her the year before. And on “Idaho” she’s off on a road trip, finding comfort in the rolling landscape of the Prairies and in her Republican aunt’s basement guest room.
“I need to begin my life all over again,” she wails, before Jesse Zubot comes in on the violin and the song takes a wilder and more positive tack. Things improve from there, with only a moody, string-cushioned tribute to Roméo Dallaire breaking an emotional ascent that eventually leads to a song called “It’s Gonna Be Alright”. Message received!
The weird thing about Darlingford is that it’s so straightforward, musically, that it almost reads as a New Country album, albeit one with strong folk roots. Lyrically, too, Luft addresses the familiar topic of heartbreak in unquestionably familiar ways. But the real emotion that pours out of these tracks is so raw that it’s hard not to sympathize with the singer’s plight, hope for her future, and sing along. – by Alexander Varty
Cara’s third solo recording comes after a five-year hiatus from her last one. This ex-Calgarian and ex-Wailin’ Jenny recorded Darlingford at various places across the Prairies, including the Darlingford United Church in Manitoba, and in a few other places across Canada, the U.K. and the U.S.A.
It’s been worth the wait, as the life experiences of the past five years have resulted in a mature set of songs, some contemporary such as the stories of Dallaire, a paean to the Canadian general and senator, or Charged, a comical re-telling of a run-in with American border guards, and some straight out of the tradition with lovely reworkings of The Ploughboy and the Cockney and He Moved Through the Fair.
Cara’s in fine voice on Darlingford and she uses a deft hand, letting the simple production enhance the songs rather take them over. Although recorded at various locations, it hangs together very well and it’s a lovely piece of work from an artist in fine form at this stage of her career. – Les Siemieniuk
Star Phoenix – Saskatoon, SK
“Cara Luft’s [new album] Darlingford has a wonderful seat-of-the-pants, get-it-done-in-a-few-takes feel to it, with Luft charging each tune with her plaintive, often heart-aching vocals. She goes for a mix of contemporary folk music, classic old country folk songs and alt country as she runs the range of love, longing and observations of the darkness and light of the world… From guitar to violin to banjo, this album’s got energy and passion to burn.”
World Beat Canada – Vancouver, BC
“Cara Luft’s third release, Darlingford, comes complete with a charming story to back up her soulful songwriting. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about her early life; she was born and raised in Calgary with a song in her heart and a six string on her knee. Sounds like nearly every other Canadian singer/songwriter’s story doesn’t it? One third of the founding members of the Wailin’ Jennys, Cara has pursued a solo career for the past 5 years or so. This is where things start to get interesting. Her delivery is too gutsy, her material too close to the bone for the Jennys’ fluffy repertoire. 2007’s The Light Fantastic was a sensational break-through. Produced by 54/40’s Neil Osborne, the disc showcased Cara’s full-bodied, rock ready vocals, lyrical intrigue and soaring sense of harmony. It also introduced us to her fondness of English folk music and embrace of more exotic instrumentation like on the tabla-driven Black Water Side.
Despite the lengthy cast of contributors on Darlingford, the new disc feels even more personal and more spiritual than The Light Fantastic. But the real story is the cast of studios or venues where Darlingford was recorded; a chapel in the Alberta foothills, several churches across the lone prairie and, as modern technology affords the modern musician, in living rooms, hotel rooms and a huge list of studios around Canada and the US. Such geographic diversity couldn’t have been taken advantage of without Cara taking on the role of producer herself. Most impressive are the consistently excellent sonics of Darlingford. The recordings are warm and filled with the resonant isolation and emptiness of old wooden sacred spaces, betrayed only as each last note rings out, decaying into the natural ambience.
And, the DIY independent approach extended to the financing for the project which was accomplished through the popular (and relatively new phenomenon of crowdfunding). Cara’s own initiative can be viewed on You Tube. Just search ‘Calling All Indie Music Angels’. A savvy marketer, Cara’s Darlingford story should generate the interest and, she sure doesn’t wait to deliver the goods. The opener, and early favorite, Only Love Can Save Me serves as a great introduction to the 13 tracks on Darlingford (a blip on the Manitoba landscape where a lot of the album was created). Celtic fans will love her reverse-gendered version of He Moved Through The Fair.”
VINTAGE GUITAR MAGAZINE
“Co-founder of the vocal trio The Wailin’ Jennys, The Light Fantastic has a more rock-and-roll bent. But even with a more hard-edged veneer the basic sweetness of Luft’s songs shines through. Original compositions are spiced with Celtic and Anglo/Canadian inflections that harken to her folk roots. If you liked the Jennys’ first two releases, you’ll love this.”
“Cara Luft left the Wailin’ Jennys to satisfy her yearnings to create something truer to her inner voice; she wanted something heavier, deeper, and dirtier. The result is The Light Fantastic. The brassy Canuck’s release aims for a dustier, edgier sound, but gathering from the swirly-drawn cover art and the disc’s bright overall sound, Luft certainly added dust: fairy dust. This is not to say that Luft foes the sugar-pop-country route, though her warm alto vocals are sinfully sweet. Luft is the perfect blend of lightness and gutsy rock chick.”
“Luft is an extremely talented songwriter, encapsulating person, time and place with the skill and temerity of Randy Newman. Vocally she’s up there with the best, and the musical arrangements here are anything but typical. Luft sounds like she’s still challenging herself on each song, and enjoying it in the process. The Light Fantastic is a terrific listen. Luft is a master songwriter and performer. You don’t want to be without this disc. 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)”
TORONTO STAR “The Light Fantastic showcases Luft’s exceptional abilities as a guitarist and her compelling and distinctive voice. Moreover, the original songs on this album are a powerful combination of imagination, rhythmic power and social commentary… That said, her reworking of the traditional English ballad “Lord Roslyn’s Daughter” – the arrangement conjures up Brit prog-folk band Pentangle – is one of the most memorable in this collection. Top track: “There’s a Train,” a soulful lament that builds to a wild and passionate fury.
VANCOUVER PROVINCE “Yes, Luft is a Wailin’ Jennys founder but so much more too, head and shoulders above most. Think Julie Miller meets Gillian Welch on a lot of this, with an occasional bit of Linda Thompson tossed in.”
MONDAY MAGAZINE “The Light Fantastic is a little bit country, a whole lot of folk and a surprising dollop of rock from an artist who’s quickly climbing the ranks to become one of the stars of the Canadian roots scene. If you thought it was a drag when Luft left the Jennys, check out The Light Fantastic and see what she’s been doing since. You won’t be disappointed.”
AMERICANA UK “Luft is a consummate performer. Unlike so many singer-songwriters, [her] music has an urgency that can’t be denied… as good as anything I’ve heard for a long time.”
VANCOUVER COURIER “The Light Fantastic is one of the surprise albums of the year. The second solo disc from Cara Luft shows that the singer/songwriter was wise to leave her former band the Wailin’ Jennys. Encompassing folk, country, rock and blues, the record features the moving epic The Light and the tough-talking Give It Up.”
TERRY DAVID MULLIGAN, CKUA “This is her time, this is her year and THIS is the album. Ladies and Gentlemen, make room in your music world for Cara Luft. Songwriting as good as any I heard in all of 2006, begins my 2007… and just when you think you’ve got her style and passion nailed down she busts out in a completely different direction. Take the song Theres a train… it’s like a modern day version of Buffalo Springfield’s Bluebird… soft, gentle folksy beginning and then 3 minutes in, the song kicks into a rocking finish that stays with you long after the cd is over. And that’s just the first track on The Light Fantastic. As I said, make room for Cara Luft…before she kicks your door down!”
PUREMUSIC (NYC) “Cara Luft comes from folk singing parents and a lifetime of guitar playing, her rhythm work on acoustic is truly dense, muscularly musical. She rocks. But that’s just a turn of the diamond, as her ballad of the forgotten, Untitled, reveals. She is a deep and funky wonder.”
JAY VOTEL, WORLD FOLK MUSIC ASSOCIATION QUARTERLY (DC) “Cara Luft’s simple three-verse “Come All You Sailors” is an elegant example of her ability to take a traditional-sounding theme and turn it into a folk gem.”
DIRTY LINEN “Luft’s ‘The Light Fantastic‘ certainly reveals her folk and country roots, but also highlights her inner rock ‘n’ roller, thanks in part to producer Neil Osborne, guitarist for Canadian alte-rockers 54-40. The opening track, ‘There’s a Train’ starts out in a gentle folk-country vein, but kicks into a higher gear after the fourth verse, building to a roaring climax with blazing electric guitar, pedal steel, and fiddle. Luft’s affection for British Isles folk is evident on her faithful cover of the ballad ‘Lord Roslyn’s Daughter’ and her crisply finger picked version of ‘Blackwaterside.’ With ‘Give It Up’ Luft delivers a radio-friendly pop-rocker that could give the Sheryl Crows of the world a run for their money. ‘Wilcox’ is an unadorned 12-string guitar ballad that evokes the stark expanses of the Canadian prairie.”
“The Light Fantastic is by no means an exercise in mere volume manipulation, but rather a rich roots travelogue whose traditional heart beats with a wholly contemporary pulse. It spans the distance between the mists of English folk balladry and Middle East mysticism through to the Mississippi Delta and the rustic wonders of the Appalachian Hills with a certain fearless reverence, and no small amount of soul.”
THE KITCHENER WATERLOO RECORD
Cara Luft released her debut solo album, Tempting the Storm, in 2000. Two years later she co-founded The Wailin’ Jennys and released a couple of albums including the Juno-winning 40 Days. After two years of wailing with the Jennys, Luft resumed her solo career. The Light Fantastic is her sophomore solo album and it’s a winner. Parts of the album are as gentle, low-keyed and stripped down as anything the Jennys did. Other parts are heavier, edgier, rockier, combining elements of traditional and contemporary folk with country and roots rock. The results are so pleasing because of Luft’s considerable talents as a writer and performer, coupled with contributions from producer Neil Osborne (54-40) and an exciting group of guest musicians including multi-instrumentalist Hugh McMillan (Spirit of the West, James Keelaghan) and violinist Richard Moody (The Bills), among others.
SOULSHINE.CA It says right on the packaging of Cara Luft’s new album, The Light Fantastic, that she was one of the founding members of the Wailin’ Jennys. After winning a Juno with her former band, Luft left the ‘Jennys in late 2004 to jumpstart her own solo career. The Light Fantastic is the first fruit born of that labour, and instead of leaving listeners scratching their heads wondering why Luft left an award winning band, the 13-track record quells all worries.
The Light Fantastic kicks-off with the seemingly autobiographical “There’s A Train.” There’s a chance that the song has nothing to do with the Calgary-born musician’s departure from the Wailin’ Jennys, but with lyrics like “How could you tell me that you didn’t think I’d try / How can I stay here when it’s burning me alive,” it’s much more exciting to assume that it does. From there the record runs through a strong series of down-home, whiskey-soaked, toe-tapping folk tunes with Luft’s nasally vocals taking center stage. Whatever the reason behind the parting of ways between Luft and the Wailin’ Jennys, it’s clear from the singer’s lyrics and liner notes that she views The Light Fantastic as a rebirth of sorts. “I’m going deeper / and I’m getting stronger,” she sings on the final track, “Settle For Grey.” And with The Light Fantastic, Luft is doing just that. 4 stars
THE NERVE MAGAZINE The Light Fantastic is Luft’s follow-up to her 2000 debut (which earned a Prairie Music Award nomination for Outstanding Roots Recording), Tempting the Storm. The long wait for this second album is due to her taking time out to co-found supergroup the Wailin’ Jennys and win a Juno Award for their 40 Days album. As far as the Western Canadian folk scene goes, Luft is quite the star. The Light Fantastic can best be categorized as country music meets rootsy, spiritual, traditional folk, and it is clear that Luft has spent a lifetime perfecting her musicianship. Her songs weave personal stories (“Give it Up” bemoans the timeless topic of boyfriends being rubbish) along with more traditional theme of the open road. Luft manages to be at once Celtic and modern, and proves that you don’t have to be 104 years old with a beard to match, to perfect this kind of music.
WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
After some time away from her solo career to record and tour with the Wailin’s Jennys, Luft returns with her long-awaited second full-length. 54-40′s Neil Osborne takes over production and applies a fresh coat of paint to Luft’s already charming musical base. The Light Fantastic is rooted in the folk tradition but slathered in rock ‘n’ roll. It’s evident right from the start when There’s a Train builds from a pretty acoustic-based country-folk tune with beautiful harmonies to a tumultuous rocker. All the while her clean and clear vocal (reminiscent of Kate Rusby or June Tabor) soars powerfully above the heady blend of country, folk, roots, rock and more traditionl fare. Spirit of the West’s Hugh McMillan and Winnipeggers Christian Dugas, Richard Moody and Bill Western add further colour to the project with tasteful flourishes of mandolin, viola, fiddle, lap steel, piano, pedal steel and harmonica. She may be Jenny no longer but she’s still wailin’. Four stars – Bruce Leperre
EXCLAIM! Cara Luft finally follows up her 2000 solo debut, Tempting the Storm, with The Light Fantastic. Yes, it’s been a while between solo records but Luft hasn’t been idle in the interim. Co-founder of the Wailin’ Jennys, she recorded two albums with them since they began in 2002, including the Juno Award-winning 40 Days. She left the Jennys in 2004 to return to solo recording and the result is an appealing blend of country and roots rock that has a significantly harder edge than the Jennys’ generally mellow vibe. Even traditional numbers like “Lord Roslyn’s Daughter” take on a dash of badass rock in Luft’s hands. Her bio makes much of a youthful fondness for Led Zeppelin and, weirdly enough, on tracks like “Give It Up” there’s a hint of Jimmy Page in her guitar licks and a trace of Robert Plant in her high notes. Incongruous, perhaps, coming from a young, female folk musician out of Winnipeg but somehow it all comes together very nicely indeed.
PENGUIN EGGS MAGAZINE The Light is Cara’s first venture into recording since she left the Wailin’ Jennys. I always wish the best to someone who leaves a going musical concern to pursue their own muse. Yet you can’t help but also worry a bit that the admirers collected while part of said going musical concern will be disappointed in the new path. No such worries here. Cara recruited 54-40′s Neil Osborne as the producer and together they have done her work proud. The Light Fantastic is a collection of 13 strong songs showcasing Cara’s two strongest suits – her guitar playing and her wonderful voice. It’s much more contemporary and less traditionally influenced than her last solo effort, Tempting the Storm. That being said, one of the album’s stellar songs, Lord Rosyln’s Daughter, is very much traditional in sound and style, telling a story containing enigmatic riddles and a nefarious nobleman on a “milk white steed” out to steal the damsel’s virtue. A wonderfully produced and great-sounding album, The Light Fantastic is a great next step in the resumed solo career of Cara Luft.
…and, for fun – we don’t understand a word – some European Reviews:
Cara Luft hoort thuis in het rijtje – de appel valt niet ver van de boom – Haar ouders gingen in Canada door het leven als getalenteerde folkmuzikanten en zagen hun dochter in ’96 met het EPtje “Train To Freedom” gevolgd door het album “Tragedy of the Commons” een voorzichtige poging ondernemen om in hun voetstappen te treden. Het album “Tempting in the Storm” (2000) kreeg niet de (verdiende) aandacht waarop zij gerekend had en misschien bondt zij daarom haar lot aan dat van Nicky Mehta en Ruth Moody. The Wailin’ Jenny’s waren een feit en achteraf bekeken heeft het Cara Luft geen windeieren opgeleverd. Het album “40 Days” werd bedolven onder de Awards en de verkoopcijfers waren navenant. Toch hield Clara het na een poosje voor bekeken, werd vervangen door Annebelle Chvostek, en besloot haar solo-carrire een nieuwe impuls te geven. “Het is moeilijk bescheiden te blijven als je ….” zong er iemand vroeger op de bouwstelling maar het dametje uit Canada mag met recht en reden haar album als “The Light Fantastic” betitelen. Cara Luft tekent resoluut voor een eigentijdse moderne benadering van het folkgebeuren zonder de traditionele basisprincipes te verloochenen, “Lord Roslyn’s Daughter” is daar een fraai voorbeeld van. Het feit dat Neil Osborne tekende voor de produktie van dit schijfje zal in ruime mate bijgedragen hebben dat Clara Luft albums in de toekomst gemakkelijker terug te vinden zijn in de afdeling Americana. Hugh Mc Millan (mandolin, lap steel), Bill Western (pedal steel), Richard Moody (viola, fiddle) geven er een serieuze lap op in de opener “There’s a Train” en laten het meisje rocken als nooit tevoren op “No Strenght” en “Give It Up”. Toch zullen voornamelijk het pareltje “Down to The River”, “No Friend of Mine” en “Black Water Slide” de fans van het eerste uur overhalen om dit schijfje aan te schaffen, laat de liefhebbers van het iets minder gepolijste gedeelte van ” the Light Fantastic” ook hun duit in het zakje doen dan zou dit wel eens een bestseller kunnen worden. 4 stars
De Canadese Cara Luft geniet hier te lande vooral bekendheid als een van de stichtende leden van de Wailin’ Jennys, waarmee ze in 2005 in eigen land nog de Juno Award voor “Best Roots Recording” in de wacht sleepte voor de CD “40 Days”. Nochtans had ze eerder ook al een paar uitstekende platen gemaakt. In ’96 was er zo al de EP “Train to Freedom”, in ’97 haar eerste volwaardige langspeler “Tragedy of the Commons” en in 2000 het naar onze bescheiden mening zwaar onderschatte “Tempting the Storm”. “The Light Fantastic” is nu haar eerste post-Wailin’ Jennys-worp. Luft heeft dat nochtans aardig succesvolle gezelschap inmiddels inderdaad de rug toegekeerd om haar eigen carriere nieuw leven in te blazen. En dat doet ze aan het handje van de van 54-40 bekende Neil Osborne als producer. Die Osborne heeft er op toegezien, dat Lufts voornaamste troeven hier allemaal keurig worden uitgespeeld. En in de eerste plaats natuurlijk haar fantastische stem. Haar enigszins ijle voordracht is het immers die het toelaat om haar meteen uit de duizenden te herkennen. En voorts wordt natuurlijk ook ruimschoots aandacht besteed aan haar markant akoestisch gitaarwerk en haar zonder uitzondering uitstekende songs. Daarin kiest Luft ditmaal voor een wat eigentijdsere aanpak. Zonder daarom het traditionele aspect van haar eerdere werk meteen volledig te verloochenen zoekt Luft hier naar een geluid, dat ook het hier en nu incorporeert. Een mooi voorbeeld daarvan is “Black Water Side”. Uit gelijke delen folk en blues opgetrokken, maar tegelijkertijd toch ook nadrukkelijk hengelend naar een popgezicht. Lijnrecht daartegenover staat dan weer iets als “Lord Roslyn’s Daughter”. Dat is zowel thematisch gezien als muzikaal folk van het traditionelere type. “There’s A Train” valt mede door zijn fraaie mandolineaccenten dan weer duidelijk onder de noemer Americana, “No Friend Of Mine” begint als iets van Joni Mitchell, maar bloeit geleidelijk aan open tot een wolk van een folk rock song, “No Strenght” is gewoon rock tout court, volbloed-rootsdeun “Down To The River” had absoluut niet misstaan op een Wailin’ Jennys-plaat en “Give It Up” mikt folkpopgewijs resoluut op de nodige airplay. En die wordt Cara Luft van hieruit gegund ook! “The Light Fantastic” is immers niet alleen een zeer gevarieerde, maar ook een zeer sterke plaat. 4 stars
Na 40 Days (zie recensie hieronder), het onlangs in Nederland uitgebrachte debuutalbum van The Wailin’ Jennys, hield Cara Luft het voor gezien en zette ze haar solocarriere voort, die ze in 2003 begonnen was met Tempting The Storm. Meteen op het eerste liedje van The Light Fantastic wordt duidelijk wat waarschijnlijk de reden was van haar vertrek: het mocht van Cara wel wat heftiger, wat grilliger, wat dwarser, wat minder gelikt. Haar aanpak van het countryroots-genre doet sterk denken aan die van Buddy Miller, die er ook graag een portie rock’n'roll doorheen roert, en die er op de begeleidende info dan ook geen doekjes om windt: ‘Cara’s new record is great, real, and heartfelt – as she is. No fluff or extra notes – just the good stuff!’ Voor deze vriendendienst wordt Buddy natuurlijk op het hoesje hartelijk bedankt, samen met zo’n veertig anderen… in plaats daarvan had Cara met een beetje moeite minstens de helft van de teksten kunnen laten afdrukken. Maar goed, in haar eentje weet ze bijna net zoveel paarden in de wacht te slepen als destijds met The Wailin’ Jennys. Dankzij haar wonderlijk mooie stem en een repertoire dat nŽt iets gedurfder is, al pakt dat niet overal even goed uit: Give It Up en No Strength zijn een beetje gewoontjes. - Rene Leverink
Review in Folk Roots Magazine (England)
- by Simon Jones
Cara Luft’s been listening to the right stuff way out there in Canada, making a smart move in relocating to Winnipeg – a city I know of old. This third album shows an abiding love of good old Brit trad and a canny way of writing her own remarkable folk rock grooves. Obviously familiar with Hark! The Village Wait, (and why not?) she covers My Johnny Was A Shoemaker, and The Blacksmith, with enough cavalier spirit to treat them loosely though never rebelliously. Her own musings are genial, varying between sombre on Send an Oar, skirling on Run To Your Lover, and introspective on I Didn’t Know. On the up escalator for sure.
Just a girl, guitar and open road
- by Lori-Anne Charlton, The Daily Courier, Kelowna, BC
Like a fabled troubadour, a wandering minstrel or a hippie musician travelling in a van, folk singer Cara Luft has been making her way across Western Canada, performing as she goes. Just a girl, her guitar and the open road.
“Oh yeah,” she snorts in amusements. “In my little tiny station wagon. This is a very long tour in a tiny little car.”
So much for romantic illusions. Luft left her home in Winnipeg at the end of March to tour through Saskatchewan, Alberta, B.C. and down the American coast to San Francisco, staying with friends, in motels or campgrounds along the way.
She stops in Kelowna, tonight, at Doc Willooughby’s Downtown Grill.
The one-girl tour really does sound like a lark. And while she insists she does it for the money – “The only way to pay off your loans is to go out and sell the album, and the only way to do that is to go on tour” – Luft considers playing her way across Canada as just one of the many perks of her job.
It’s a routine she’s been keeping for the last year and a half, since recording her third CD, Tempting the Storm. “The tours are really fun,” Luft says. “They’re really interesting, and you meet lots of neat people.”
It’s not all performances and travel, of course. The folksy chanteuse continues to work from the road, making and confirming bookings, working out accommodation and attending to business matters, such as interviews.
But, she says, there’s always time to file away ideas for future songs along the way. And inspiration is everywhere.
Listening to the radio while she drives, she hears a man talk about the pace of life today, and how people don’t take the time to think and ponder anymore. There’s a song. Further down the road, the car breaks down – another song. On one particular tour, Luft’s guitar broke and she had to borrow guitars everywhere she stopped for the rest of the tour.
“Little stories like that make their way into songs,” she says.
They also make their way into stories she tells between the songs, when she’s performing live. Following in the folksie vein, she likes to get people laughing and talking at her shows, and feeling pleasantly introspective. It’s a talent she comes by naturally.
Raised by professional folk musicians, Luft says there was always music in the house, and musicians travelling through. She started playing the dulcimer and autoharp when she was three or four-years-old, and moved to the guitar at age 11. In high school she picked up the penny whistle and mandolin, and she’s currently learning how to play the banjo.
Only the old guitar accompanies Luft on tour, but she does pick up the other instruments in a musical trio in Winnipeg, called the Wailin’ Jennys.
Luft’s stop in Kelowna tonight will be a return home, of sorts. From 1995-98, the city-sick songstress made her home in Vernon, transferring her studies from the University of Calgary (where she grew up) to OUC’s Kal-Lake campus.
While here, she started a band, recorded an EP and entered the festival circuit with appearances in Lilith Fair Calgary and the International Guitar Festival in England. She still has a soft spot for the Okanagan.
“I like going back there ’cause it kind if feels like a second home,” she says.
She is in town one night for the concert and then it’s back on the road.
Adam McKibbin on Suite101.com (Los Angeles, CA)
The Scoop: Another prodigious young talent arrives on the folk scene from Canada. Luft, at times sounding like a cross between Natalie Merchant and unplugged Alanis, seems to be slightly hung up on the sea and lost love. Luft has a lovely voice—by far the centerpiece of the album—and is comfortable whether singing her own songs or reworking vocation-themed traditionals (“My Johnny Was A Shoemaker,” “The Blacksmith”). Tempting The inevitable comparison to said peers than by anything else. It’s likely that Luft’s best and most consistent albums are ahead of her.
Highlight Track: “Come All You Sailors” is a spirited opener that brings all the pieces together, featuring the whole band at their best. Especially shining here are Richard Moody on viola and Daniel Roy on percussion.
Honorable Mention: The acoustic guitar in “Send An Oar” brings to mind Ani DiFranco, even if I want it to bring to mind someone I don’t cite as a benchmark so often. As usual, Luft’s lyrics are introspective and hopeful, despite being so heavy with sadness and loss.
Musicworkz Ezine, UK
by Stu Olds
With the International Guitar Festival approaching, I thought I’d introduce one of the darlings of the festival, in this case Cara (one third of the Wailin’ Jennys) Luft.
“Tempting The Storm” is not exactly a new album, having originally been released in Canada back in 2000, but British label Headroom Records (Steve ewman, Chilli) has picked up on it, and have licensed it for release over here in the UK.
And a very astute move on the part of Headroom indeed. Broadening their roster to include someone known predominantly for wearing their folk and country influences prominently on their sleeve, especially with the current British trend towards guitar bands, might seem commercially suicidal.
It’s a well orchestrated move though, with Luft about to make an appearance with the other two thirds of the ‘Wailin’ Jennys’ at the SXSW Conference, there’s bound to be more than a little interest in both the band and the members’ solo projects.
Although ‘Tempting The Storm’ does have very strong trad folk and celtic influences, much of the material on ‘Tempting The Storm’ leans towards what one suspects might be a hankering for the life of a rock star (‘Run To Your Lover’), trading Celtic folk influences for nifty rock guitar licks. Add to that Luft’s stunning guitar work, the thoughtful and well crafted lyrics and tunes, earthy vocals which are as much suited to the trad material(including reworkings of a couple of traditional folk songs) as they are to they groove laden indie rock on the latter half of the album, and you have a very listenable and highly entertaining semi-acoustica album.
Where some people might find trad folk a little boring, and the more commercial aspects of indie rock a tad worn at the edges, this album fits nicely into the folk rock category rather neatly.
From musicfileworkz in the UK
Cara Luft has pretty much established herself as a leading light amongst the international folk/folk rock fraternities. A popular figure at music and guitar festivals, both at home in Canada and the rest of world, Luft is a welcome invitation return artist at the likes of the International Guitar Festival (UK) and the SXSW Conference.
Hardly a newcomer to the music scene, ‘Tempting The Storm’ is Luft’s 3rd solo recording. Originally released in 2000, the album recently saw a European release through Headroom Records (UK), introducing the joys of contemporary Canadian folk rock to a wider audience.
By most accounts, ‘Tempting The Storm’ falls into the folk genre. Although the album does have very strong trad folk and Celtic influences, much of the material on ‘Tempting The Storm’ leans towards what one suspects might be a hankering for the life of a rock star (‘Run To Your Lover’). Despite her obvious love of folk, Luft, upon hearing the comments about ‘hankering for the life of a rock star’, admitted to taking in Joan Jett at SXSW2004; “I got to see Joan Jett and the Black Hearts perform “I Love Rock and Roll” — it was a dream come true!” With this in mind, she deftly trades Celtic folk influences for nifty rock guitar licks. Add to that Luft’s stunning acoustic guitar work, the thoughtful and well crafted lyrics and tunes, earthy vocals, which are as much suited to the trad material (including reworkings of a couple of traditional folk songs) as they are to they groove laden indie rock on the latter half of the album, and you have a very listenable and highly entertaining semi-acoustic album.
Whilst Cara’s solo recordings are widely recognised as holding their own merit, her collaborative work with Ruth Moody and Nicky Mehta, as The Wailin’ Jennys, has received equally positive critical acclaim. She adds her enviable acoustic guitar skills and folk background to the collective charms and talents of the other two members of ‘The Wailin’ Jennys’, and whether one prefers Luft’s more boisterous solo work or her subtle input to the folk trio, she is undeniably near the top of the list of Canadian folk and roots acts making an impact on the international scene lately.