[21 October 2008]
She’s been called “Jenny Van Halen” for her shredding guitar work with the outfit The Wailin’ Jennys, a folk trio she co-founded. Cara Luft left the Jennys to satisfy her yearnings to create something truer to her inner voice; she wanted something heavier, deeper, and dirtier. The result is her solo album The Light Fantastic, released last year in Canada and unfurled in the States in 2008. The brassy Canuck’s release aims for a dustier, edgier sound, but gathering from the swirly-drawn cover art (including sunflowers, butterflies and winding vines, and inspirational quotes) 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 gusty rock chick.
The first five tracks are gritty, soulful, well-arranged, and, at times, kick-ass rock. “There’s a Train” begins the disc with drawn-out violas (Richard Moody) and layers of female vocal harmonies that wind themselves around a soothing underlying drone. Before too long, airy harmonies become unleashed rock riffs, Moody’s fervent fiddle jousting, and Christian Dugas’ unbridled drumming. Luft jams atop the brief melee with her electric guitar. Bitter “No Friend of Mine” has cutting harmonies as Luft ironically sings, “I’m cutting you from me life / Cuz you’re not worth my time”. Thankfully, the person was worth writing a beautifully orchestrated song featuring a set of vocals that expands from duet to multi-part and back again. Hugh McMillan etches out a bassline on double bass to the all-acoustic emerging sound. Luft’s golden vocal tone has a slightly sharp edge that mimics the sound of the multiple strumming guitars.
The Light Fantastic alludes to several poems and other literary works (such as John Milton’s L’Allegro) that use the phrase to refer to revelry with extravagance. It is lightness and its accoutrement. Shaken tambourines, foot stomps, and hand claps begin the traditional “Black Water Side”. Another drone underlines the increasing tribal percussion (including Ravi Singh’s tabla) and Luft’s lofty, repetitive guitar work. Some of Luft’s richest vocal tones arise in her reaching the lower notes to the piece. Part of Luft’s inspiration for the arrangement comes from a Jimmy Page interpretation of a guitar part by Bert Jansch. The second traditional song, “Lord Roslyn’s Daughter”, follows. The murder ballad (actually, de-virginizing ballad) flows with a dark edge as Luft sings with a foreboding tone against stern violins. Sporadic upright bass offers a spooky framework, while consistent minor guitar chords provide a ghostly haze.
Several songs showcase more of Luft’s airy, dream-like side. “Wilcox” features Luft’s saccharine soprano vocal range while she softly coos about the springtime on the prairie. Light acoustic guitar fingering and resinous viola surround her poetic words. “I’ve never seen a springtime in November before”, she whispers and aches with her Canadian and Southern American accent. She recalls Deana Carter’s youthful sweet tone with more nose and more rock. “The Light” has an Eastern modal feel to its six-and-a-half-minute duration. The drone returns as the piece increases the number of instruments being played and intensity. Luft’s voice joins several other voices in unison in different octaves, eventually resulting in a light-hearted chorus of “la’s” and “dah’s”. Bill Western’s pedal steel reminds the listener that this is indeed a country record. It is the balance that Luft continually strikes that sets this album apart from most female country singer/songwriters.