Live Reviews

WHELAN’S, DUBLIN (IRELAND) Live Show Review for LONESOME HIGHWAY Sunday 9th June 2013

Tonight is the third date in a UK & Ireland Tour that sees Cara Luft visit nineteen different venues in just over twenty one days. A hectic schedule that sees this gifted Canadian talent joined by Scott Poley on additional guitars and the two musicians display a great chemistry in their playing and their onstage presence. Blessed with amazing musicianship, this is the first time that Cara Luft has played in Dublin and her enthusiasm is energizing as she plays an impressive set across a diverse range of songs.

With a confident onstage presence, Cara regales the audience with stories of her right wing aunt in Idaho, her bust up with American Customs and her song-writing collaborations with co- writer, Lewis Melville, by e mail. There is plenty of fun and laughter when she breaks a string mid song and continues singing, while attempting to change the broken string, all with hilarious consequences and a sound engineer who saves the day (you had to be there.)!!

A founder member of the much-feted Wailin Jennys, who rose to great heights in the North American folk/roots scene, Cara Luft has released three wonderful solo recordings that would grace any discerning music collectors armoury. Her skill on guitar and banjo is of the highest quality and with an ability to switch between traditional arrangements, English Folk songs and country tinged tales of love and loss, Cara Luft shows an impressive musicality and deep knowledge of tradition.

There are a few cover versions, notably ‘Bring ‘Em All In’ by Mike Scott and a beautiful arrangement of the Bert Jansch song ‘Black Water Side’ which she prefaces with a tale concerning the influences of certain songs that appeared on Led Zeppelin records in the day.

However, it is on her latest release, Darlingford, that Cara really shines, and we are treated to a number of the selected tracks during this ninety minutes of warm and wonderful music. Scott Poley serves each song with an impressive playing technique that never sees him clutter the arrangements, instead adding subtle nuance to the dynamic on display.

Cara Luft has a great gift in taking the personal and turning it into a universal feeling and message that reaches out to all who listen. Long may she reign.  - Review by Paul McGee

KITCHEN GARDEN CAFE, BIRMINGHAM (UK) Live Show Review for THREE CHORDS & THE TRUTH UK Tuesday 18th June 2013

There are certain moments attending gigs when all the ingredients are blending so well that you wish the whole experience could be bottled and savoured for future consumption. In what was certainly one of the highlights so far of this busy year, Cara Luft managed to create such a moment with her subliminal mix of high quality musicianship, enchanting stories, well crafted songs and engaging personality. When you throw into the pot the enhancing input from musical sidekick Scott Poley and the magical atmosphere of a near full Kitchen Garden Café, the desire to seek ways to capture the atmosphere intensifies. Those present will always have the memory while others hopefully can visualise and perhaps experience for themselves one of Cara’s UK shows, which are likely to proliferate in the future.

With a pedigree background from a family steeped in folk music back home in Canada, Cara has managed to evolve a sound that pays respect to the traditional song from both sides of the Atlantic. However as well as connecting with folk fans, the contemporary twist from her song writing expertise as well as banjo and guitar playing reaches out to the wider Americana fan base and you can’t go wrong with the subtle Dobro playing which Scott adds to equation. For nearly two hours, spread across a pair of sets, this value for money evening met and surpassed expectations from witnessing Cara live last year.

Perhaps the only slight drawback was the absence of some new material but plans are in place to rectify this in the near future. In the meantime the fantastic album DARLINGFORD which despite only just getting a European release, has been in the collection of many of Cara’s fans for over a year, was a worthy source for most of the material populating the set list. Within the first half a dozen songs, firm favourites such as ‘Idaho’, ‘Charged’ and ‘My Darling One’ were featured with the latter two subject to the first of several invited audience participations that graced the evening.

Occasionally, Scott would step aside to allow Cara to take the spotlight where we could focus intensely on her musicianship especially the claw hammer banjo playing skills. However his presence on acoustic guitar, Dobro and backing vocals took the show to an elevated level from what Cara was able to deliver solo when witnessed and reviewed last year. The jovial interaction between the duo increased after the break as tales were recounted of their German adventures and on a more sombre note Cara spoke about the background to the song ‘Dallaire’ and its relation to the Rwanda atrocities. Despite this brief thoughtful interlude, the vibes filling the brick-walled venue echoed with an air of positivity, best exemplified on ‘It’s Gonna Be Alright’.

Those Kitchen Garden Café regulars attracted to its traditional offerings were delighted with ‘The Ploughboy and the Cockney’, of which Cara proudly enthused that her version is only accompanied as a recording with one by Maddy Prior, and the slightly re-arranged ‘He Moved Through the Fair’. Americana enthusiasts, who associate Cara via her tenure as part of the Canadian super group The Wailin’ Jennys, could relate to the imagery of her description and adventures from travelling either side of the 49th Parallel as well as a vocal style that varied from classical folk to a slight twang more commonly found in our visitors from across the pond.

The parting shot from this excellent show is the mouth watering prospect of some of Cara’s future projects including the ABC of Canadian Music with Awna Teixeira from Po Girl and Brandy Zdan from Twilight Hotel, along with some promised new recordings. If either of these matches the high standard of both this evening’s gig and the DARLINGFORD album then we are in for a real treat.

LIVE SHOW REVIEW – Porthcawl, Wales June 2013
“Listening to Cara Luft in concert at the Pavilion in Porthcawl took me back to some of the most cherished moments of my childhood; like dancing round the living room to Simon and Garfunkel, family holidays, warm cosy evenings with home-cooked meals and bedtime stories…  It’s the pathos in her voice and the warmth and charm of her stage presence that draws a person in.  The chemistry between Luft and Poley is a delight to watch; there’s a soft deference in his voice and a wit and charm between them that’s infectious.  I hadn’t heard anything as pure since watching Tift Merritt on Jools Holland and yet even Merritt, or the likes of Caitlin Rose, cannot engender the pathos that Luft does; the honesty of a hardworking musician is palpable.”

THE ATKINSON, SOUTHPORT (UK) Live Show Review in FATEA MAGAZINE 14th June 2013

Tonight in Southport it was a case of “Welcome Back” to two special friends, the first being a person and the second being a place. The person was none other than the wonderful Canadian folksinger/songwriter/guitarist/clawhammer banjo-player Cara Luft, who was playing her fourth concert in Southport and the place was the superb Atkinson Cultural Centre [previously known and loved as Southport Arts Centre] which has recently re-opened following a lengthy period of refurbishment. To both Cara and The Atkinson, it’s great to have you back!

Cara should need no introduction to readers of this magazine. She was of, of course, one of the three founding members of The Wailin’ Jennys but since leaving the band in 2004 she has pursued her own successful solo career.

Since 2010 Cara’s sideman on her European tours has been talented multi-instrumentalist Scott Poley who hails from just down the road in Lydiate. Tonight Scott accompanied Cara on guitar, dobro and harmony vocals. To demonstrate Scott’s versatility, he has just completed a tour with Kevin Montgomery and The Endangered Livers during which he played pedal steel, lap steel and electric guitar. He is also currently recording a solo album with various special guests, so watch this space.

The story of how Cara and Scott came to meet each other is worth telling. About fifteen years ago, Cara was invited to play at the Wirral Guitar Festival. Scott, an aspiring eleven year-old guitarist saw her play and was greatly impressed. He bought her EP and taught himself to play the songs. He started corresponding with Cara and they became friends. When Cara was looking for an accompanist for her European tours, Scott was the obvious choice as he already knew the songs.

Cara’s latest album is “Darlingford”, which has received many favourable reviews [see David Kidman's review in this very magazine]. Songs from “Darlingford” featured prominently in tonight’s concert, with some old favourites added for good measure.

Cara is a brave songwriter who is not afraid to describe her personal feelings and experiences [good or bad] in her lyrics. Several of the songs on “Darlingford” deal with a series of personal misfortunes that befell her. For example, “Idaho” tells of a time when her “life was in pieces” and she had “fallen in a great big hole”. Cara “needed somewhere to go”, so she went to visit her “right wing, fundamentalist” Aunt in Idaho to recover. Another difficult time is described in “House On Fire”, when her “house was burning”, so she went to stay with her friend Miriam, with just her banjo.

Another traumatic event in Cara’s life is described, with great humour, in the song “Charged”. This tells of the time when Cara was taking a short cut by crossing over into the United States from Canada. When she innocently described her occupation as “folksinger”, the US Customs searched her car and found a “stash of contraband” under the seat that had been [allegedly] left there by a passenger. She was, of course, arrested and charged with possession, although she protested that “It was his, It’s not mine”! Fortunately, this story has a happy ending as Cara wrote the song “Charged” and sent it to the District Attorney who was dealing with her case. Luckily, he had a sense of humour and was amused by the song. So much so that the charge was eventually dropped and he actually voted for the song in a songwriting competition that Cara had entered. Tonight’s performance of “Charged” elicited a good deal of pantomime-type audience participation and was followed by, appropriately, “You’re No Friend Of Mine”, which was dedicated to the owner of the previously mentioned illegal substance. This song featured a superb solo by Scott.

As well as being a superb guitar player, Cara is also an expert claw-hammer banjoist, as she amply demonstrated on “Portland Town” by Derroll Adams, which is on “Darlingford”, as is another [rare for Cara] cover version, namely Mike Scott’s “Bring ‘Em All In”, as originally performed by The Waterboys. Tonight’s version also got the audience joining in on the choruses.

As a result of requests, Cara resurrected one of her older songs “Down To The River”, a lovely gospel-flavoured song, which featured some wonderfully atmospheric dobro playing from Scott.

Cara was brought up listening to her parents’ record collection, which included classic folk-rock albums by the likes of Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and Pentangle, so she has a great love of traditional folk song. Tonight she performed “The Ploughboy and the Cockney” [which she learned from a recording by Tim Hart and Maddy Prior] as well as a stunning version of “Blackwaterside” [as originally arranged by the late, great Bert Jansch]. Another guitar player who influenced Cara was Davey Graham and she played her arrangement of the traditional melody “He Moved Through The Fair” which Davey adapted to DADGAD guitar tuning in the early 1960′s.

Cara and Scott then proceeded to blow the audience away with a dazzling rendition of one of Cara’s best-known songs, “Come All You Sailors”, which fans of The Jenny’s will know from the “40 Days” album. The audience were suitably moved and demanded more.

As an encore, Cara and Scott performed, in unplugged mode, two banjo tunes, “Shady Grove ” and “Cluck Old Hen”.

If you have not seen Cara play live before, you have missed a treat because, as well as being a superb lyricist, singer and musician, she really engages with the audience in a warm and personal way. Her humorous introductions to her songs are legendary and are almost as popular as the songs themselves. It was great to have Cara back in Southport, at The Atkinson. – Peter Cowley

WHITSTABLE FOLK NIGHTS (UK) Live Show Review June 2012
It didn’t seem possible for it to get any hotter the day that Cara Luft performed but as the evening sun started to dip, Cara appeared on the stage at the Royal Native Oyster Stores and quickly raised the temperature. This was the first gig of Cara’s UK summer tour and, ably accompanied by the multi-talented Tom Billington, her two sets gave the audience a sneak preview of her latest album “Darlingford”, out in the UK this month.

Consummate musician and engaging raconteur, Luft is the ultimate travelling minstrel. Packing an emotional punch as she sang songs delivered straight from the heart, Cara easily connected with her audience with tender tracks such as “Bring Em All In” and “Only Love Can Save Me” as well as more upbeat sing-alongs like “Charged”.

All of this was served on a bed of superb musicianship: a backdrop of brilliant guitar playing and many delightful moments of simply wonderful banjo playing that included finishing with a sparkling cover of the Guns N Roses anthem “Sweet Child of Mine”.

In the end, no one wanted the music to stop but sadly it had to. Whitstable Folk Nights had delivered once again.

BISHOP AUCKLAND TOWN HALL (UK) Live Show Review 2012
The strong touring presence of the flourishing Canadian folk and roots music scene continues to go from strength to strength as Alberta born and raised artist Cara Luft returns to the UK for a month-long promotion of her new CD culminating in an appearance at the annual Canada Day celebration in London in early July. After the unfortunate scenario of being unable to attend either of the Midlands gigs on this tour, an opportunity to catch her show at Bishop Auckland while on a short break in the North East was one not to be missed and ultimately a very rewarding experience. Cara’s two-set show formed part of a small monthly gathering of folk fans in the Town Hall bar of this County Durham market town and her brand of rock infused folk and roots music entertained those present who were probably more used to the rich vein of local artists participating in the art of performing traditional music. Accompanied only by the exchange of guitar and banjo, along with a catalogue of quality songs and an effervescent personality, Cara showed why she is a valued and respected member of this music movement.

Although the bulk of the night was to be devoted to the songs from her new record titled ‘Darlingford’, Cara chose to open the evening with ‘There’s a Train’, a track from her previous album, ‘The Light Fantastic’ and the up tempo strumming that accompanies this song set the tone for what we would expect for the rest of the evening. There are certainly elements of her rock influences in a playing style that sets her apart from other artists in the genre and this adds a little originality to her interpretations of traditional music. Other tracks played from this 2008 album in the opening set were also of a similar style, these being ‘No Friend of Mine’ and ‘Black Water Side’, the latter paying tribute to the diverse interpretations of a traditional song by Bert Jansch and Jimmy Page .

A strong and enlightening feature of a Cara Luft show is the vivid background stories that introduce many of the songs and, with a new album to promote, there was no shortage of fascinating ones on this pleasant June evening. Therefore during the first half of the show we learnt of Cara’s right wing fundamentalist aunt, the subject of ‘Idaho’ and of the US/Canadian border crossing unintentional smuggling saga that became the origin of the popular audience participation favourite ‘Charged’, of which a live version appears on the new album and a You Tube clip featuring prominently on her website. Perhaps the stand out number from this segment of the evening was the new song ‘My Darling One’ with its infectious chorus line.

After commencing the second set with the song ‘Holding On’, so new it’s yet to appear on any record, Cara chose to focus solely on the new album with such numbers inspired by Canadian UN humanitarian Romeo Dallaire whose experiences in war torn Rwanda were reflected in a song simply titled ‘Dallaire’, while a more personal relationship was recounted in ‘House on Fire’. Cara loves to delve into traditional music and followed her rendition of the old English folk song ‘The Ploughboy and the Cockney’ in the first set with an interpretation of ‘He Moved through the Fair’ in the second. However there was time for one final twist as the encore consisted of a banjo rework of rock classic ‘Sweet Child of Mine’, a light hearted feature of Cara’s sessions back home with this much maligned but beautiful traditional instrument.

There are still plenty of opportunities to enjoy a delightful musical evening in the company of Cara Luft as she continues to extensively travel the UK this June including appearances at the fantastic Maverick festival at the end of the month, and investing a little bit of money and time will certainly not see you disappointed.

COMMUNITY CONCERT PRESENTER (Alberta) Live Show Review 2012
“What an evening! Cara brilliantly entertains! We enjoyed a splendid concert of outstanding guitar and banjo playing complemented by her wonderful songwriting and beautiful singing. Cara brings an emotional mix of music from tragedy to happy and her connection with our audience was the best. Communications before, during and after the concert were top notch. Unreservedly recommend Cara!”

LEITH FOLK CLUB (Scotland) Live Show Review in the Scotsman **** (4 STARS)
THERE’S clearly some great word of mouth about Leith Folk Club going around among grassroots North American singer-songwriters, such artists having formed an increasingly frequent and rewarding strand of its weekly Tuesday night programme.

Born in Calgary and based in Winnipeg, Cara Luft spent three years as co-founder of acclaimed close-harmony trio the Wailin’ Jennys, before leaving in 2005 to resume her solo career. The troubadour life clearly suits her: appearing in Leith ahead of several similarly intimate gigs in the Highlands, she had already been touring in Europe since early June, yet there was nothing remotely jaded about their performance, just plenty of relaxed warmth and vivacity, including some hilariously extended anecdotes describing the origins of particular songs.

As represented primarily by tracks from her second solo album, The Light Fantastic, plus a few from its predecessors and the odd Wailin’ Jennys cut, Luft’s main musical heartland lies in country-folk territory, to which she brought an assertively strong, clear, pliant voice, with an assured command of dynamic nuance and contrast.

In its balance of dulcet sweetness and tangy twang, her singing also contained shades of Nanci Griffith and Mindy Smith, along with the steely, bluesy muscle flexed in a couple of rockier numbers, Give It Up (“about boys who need to grow up before they can fall in love with a real woman – like me!”), and You’re No Friend of Mine, a wry retrospective riposte to schooldays humiliation. A compelling cover of Led Zeppelin’s Black Mountainside, working in echoes of the Bert Jansch/Pentangle version, displayed the breadth and expertise of her musical references, while a winsome rendition of The Bonnie Lighthorseman offered further graceful acknowledgement of the folk-club setting.

THE STAR PHOENIX (Saskatoon) – Cara Opening for Loudon Wainwright 2011
“[Opening for Loudon] was the wonderful Cara Luft, one-time Wailin’ Jenny and now touring solo. Straight in off the road from Winnipeg, Luft played a number of new songs from an upcoming album. Moving between two guitars and a fivestring banjo, she played There’s a Train, She’s Been Charged!, Portland Town and two stunners, Black Water Side and Come All You Sailors.  Luft had a big impact on the Saskatoon crowd, telling a few ripping stories and some great banjo jokes. So, she asked, how do you tune a banjo? Nobody knows.”

HOUSE OF BLUES (Germany) Live Show Review October 2010
(Translation) Cara Luft Spoils her Audience with Original Music/Serious Folk Music
She’s not particularly the biggest person (body-wise), and with her curly hair, simple dress, green-black striped knee length socks and footware she doesn’t look like the typical folk star.  More like the girl next door.

This Canadian Folk Singer doesn’t need high heels or glitter in order to make her noticeable, she convinces through being natural and having charisma.  Her instrument and voice are enough.  It is a voice that takes listeners to the place the song describes, that caresses them, warms them, awakens them, urges and calls.  A voice that is reminiscent of Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell but exudes so much independence and authenticity that there is no doubt about who is on the stage.

Her songs are a snap-shot of life.  In good singer/song-writer style she brings real life situations into her songs but isn’t shy of bringing classics such as Led Zeppelin’s instrumental “Black Mountain Side” into her own funky style.  She has no reservations either in music or her own life.  During the break she stood in front of the audience and chatted with them as though it was the most natural thing to do in the world.

Back on the stage, this young lady who loves to laugh transforms once more into a focussed musician.  Each song is different, ranging from those using acoustic guitars and banjos and moves with instinctive sureness in their genre between melodic songs, sophisticated arrangements and tough protest songs.

Romance doesn’t get a raw deal either.  “My Darling One” is laidback with lots of airy melodies and reminds us of our first great love.  It doesn’t last too long if one believes the song “Bye Bye Love.”  With “Jerusalem” she takes the middle east conflict on and in the song “Dallaire” rivers of blood flow from fallen fighters.

Cara Luft didn’t come alone to Germany.  As support she brought English singer and guitar player Scott Poley who accompanies her on her European Tour.  A good choice, because the Liverpudlian shows off an explosion of his guitar tricks, and being ever the gentleman, his playing doesn’t do a diservice to the melody.  Luft and Poley don’t just fascinate here in Eutingen, but have done so already in many other towns before that, and some fans travelled from Darmstadt, Frankfurt and also 20 kilometers from Gulstein to be spoilt by Cara Luft and the “Light Fantastic” (the name of her latest CD).

WHITSTABLE FOLK NIGHTS (UK) Live Show Review Nov 2010
Canadian singer-songwriter Cara Luft was one of the highlights of last year’s folk club programme, delighting fans with her unique blend of folk, country, blues and rock. It turns out the admiration was mutual – she couldn’t wait to get back to the town and what she described as one of the best clubs in the country.

And what a return it was. Cara’s songs are often personal and always heartfelt, and she’s had some tough times since her last visit. She’s worked some of those experiences into new songs, but what shone through her lyrics was not just the raw heartache but the positive spirit that brings you out the other side, especially in Gonna Be Alright.

And if that all sounds a bit heavy, there was lightness too, and humour, particularly in the song she penned after her experiences being hauled over while crossing the border from Canada into the US. Moral to that tale – never let a friend leave something in your car that could get you into trouble.

Cara sang about the importance of friends – and judging by the applause at the end of the evening, she certainly made a lot of new ones here.

CAFE CASTANEDA (Germany) Live Show Review
Happy End in Harbshausen
Too much going on in the night before Halloween, a small audience found its way to Café Castaneda.  Cara Luft didn’t let this spoil her mood in Harbshausen, but provided funny anecdotes from previous performances, fresh songs with individual choruses and the invitation to sing along because as she was on the last leg of her tour she would be able to give away the prize for the best choir.  The title of the coolest venue had already been taken by Café Castaneda before the first song.

The dense guitar playing that the Canadian singer-songwriter and her British companion Scott Poley unleashed at the beginning of the show promised that this was not necessarily just a social event.

By the third piece, with the frequently used refrain “My Darling One”, the first and gladly accepted invitation to sing along came from the happy go lucky country singer, three other opportunities (eg Bring em all in) were to follow.

Depth didn’t fall by the wayside with so many happy people because between the cheerful songs there was sufficient room for dark themes, harmonies to make you hang your head (No Friend) or tricky guitar playing with which Scott and Cara transformed the almost already dirge like ballad “She Moved Through the Fair” into a vibrant promise.

Cara’s presentation of Jerusalem was also coined by aggressive longing and restless rhythms, a composition that stands for the desire for release of expression and of difficulties, that one is losing their way and there is no easy way out.  The song “Gonna be alright” is also about getting your life in order.  In this particular song of optimism the young vocalist clearly trudges her way step by step out of the valley of tears, while her colleague Scott knocks out the rhythm on the body of his guitar.

The programme had variety with songs of varying moods, though singing “Dallaire” (about genocide in Rwanda) Cara Luft showed she was a great songwriter.

Her small but firm Harbshauser followers called for Cara Luft and Scott Poley to play more than the usual two encores and even got one or two extra anecdotes from the tour, including a story about a packed-full local in which the organiser couldn’t provide an amplifier and where the concert was a joy on the ears for the first row.  The PA in Castaneda had easily managed to get a full house absorbed.  Next year the young vocalist will come to Harbshausen with her new album.

HOUSE OF BLUES (Germany) Another Live Show Review October 2010
Where Beautiful Music is In the Air
The Canadian Singer Cara Luft Charms in “House of Blues”

Bob Michaels (alias Robert Michael Krause) has operated his “House of Blues” by the train station of Hochdorf for a year and a half.  Ever since then there has been an international music series – continually coming and going.  On Sunday Cara Luft from Canada charmed with Folk music.

Together with guitar player Scott Poley from Liverpool, Cara Luft fascinated the audience with her glass clear voice, perfect guitar playing and wonderfully acoustic folksongs.  And they were initially seen by some guests merely as background music – a shame.

Her fan Kai travelled especially from Darmstadt with a group of people.  Therefore Cara Luft devoted the entire concert to him.  Cara Luft was taken by the fact that some music lovers had made the pilgrimage to Hochdorf on a Sunday evening.  Then 2 journalists focus their cameras on the music lovers: “through you we feel like Rockstars” grins Cara Luft.  In each and every note sung and every finger pluck of the guitar you could tell that Cara Luft grew up in a family of professional folk musicians.  She began to sing at the tender age of 4.  She was the founder member of the much acclaimed Folk trio “The Wailin’ Jennys” and was recognised with a Juno award, the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy.  She has been solo since 2005.

Despite the partly electric and rock arrangements of her CD “The Light Fantastic” being missing on Sunday, Cara Luft proved that traditional Folk music doesn’t have to sound stale, whether that was with her own songs such as “No friend of mine”, or the banjo classic “Portland Town” from Derroll Adams or with the well-known Led-Zeppelin traditional folk song “Black Water Side”.

Cara Luft pulled the audience under her spell with one song especially: “It’s not mine” she insists in a song based on a true story.  For at the American border she was found with a bag of grass in her car, that had been left there and forgotten by a friend.  The audience at least believed her more than the customs did: “it’s not hers” they sang loudly with her.

“Although we haven’t played any Blues it was an honour for us to play in the House of Blues”, thanked the singer.