About 20 years ago, (yes, it has been two decades since the 90s) girl power was all about a spunky British quintet and their strident platform shoes. Today, in the 2010s, female musicians do takefullstabs at playing multiple instruments and defying this mans world with deep imposing voices.
Basia Bulat, the Canadian singer/songwriter who debuted in 2007 with a very successful Oh, My Darling, delivered a vigorous sophomore full-length this past week. Bulats Heart of My Own is an incredible, instrumentally varied record that beats with the full force of her hearty vibrato.
Among the intricately orchestrated tracks are traces of Celtic folk in the violin, bumpkin in the banjos, and a number of noted vocalists in Bulats exceptional cords. Her voice is the thickness of Amy Winehouse, the sensitivity of Feist, the power-poetry of Ani DiFranco (see Sparrow), and the vocal quirkiness of Alanis Morisette. When she shakes out that delicate croon in the simply beautiful Sugar and Spice, she even has the cadence of a more substantial Devendra Banhart.
Overall, Bulats feisty, upbeat music has a very cohesive energy and her exquisite instruments are well-paired. There are plenty of strings on Heart of My Own; the best part is that the use of violins, ukuleles, banjos, and autoharps seems organic to the music. There isnt any awkward friction among the chords, like there would be if certain instruments were forced into the mix. In the very angelic Run, violins and harps crescendo inconspicuously and provide a steady backbone for Bulats escalating song. Well-varied and intricately instrumented, the strings play upon each other and climb along with Bulat’s thick chords.
The variety of instruments on this record is such that at times their introductions almost go unnoticed, but then they hop up from under the dominating strings and add a new twist to Bulat’s compound style. Though most of the album is driven by a harpish mixture, Bulat and her crew even implement trumpets. Although unexpected, upon their arrival in If Only You, they make complete sense.
The album comes on full-force, booming the hearty tracks at first, then winding down to the more ballad-like verses. The first single, Gold Rush, is an excellent demonstration of the Irish countryside thats reflected in the first portion of the record. There is a strong blend of that Celtic folk that, while rare, is always energizing, and fiery drums that beat perfectly along Bulats robust vocals.
To counter and balance out the energy shoved forth at the start of the disc, Sparrow delivers a more vulnerable, delicate melody. With the same emotion thats encrusted into the beginning tracks, Bulat sings, Let your sparrow fall/to what might be, in a sandy, heart-warming murmur accompanied by a soft ukulele riff.
In yet another angle, Bulat adds a touch of bluegrass to her sound in tracks like the eponymous Heart of My Own. This colorful addition of banjo is the ideal musical transition from winter into spring, and its a bit reminiscent of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss (though that resemblance could easily just be the desire to see them all play Bonnaroo together this year). The easy banjo, slow violin, choral back-ups and Bulats confident vocal boom are definitely a welcomed reminder of the upcoming summer festivals and their (hopefully) breezy daytime shows.
For the lucky ones who plan on acquiring this outstanding record via iTunes, a treat awaits. Hush, the iTunes Bonus Track, is a more tribal, Southern folklore-ish number. Its almost like an old slave chant thats suspiciously similar to Amazing Grace. Being that the song is basically a cappella, it shows off the impressive width of her voice and reaffirms Bulats aptitude as a singer.
Heart of My Own