Keri and Devin Latimer, the husband and wife duo that refer to themselves by the nom de plume Leaf Rapids, have created a most affecting debut album in Lucky Stars, a set of songs that reflects what one can only imagine must be the carefree feeling inspired by life in the vast expanse of Canada’s western provinces. It is indeed a long way from Manitoba to Memphis, but in truth, those windy prairies aren’t all that different from the fields and grasslands that stretch to the foothills of the American Rockies. As a result, there’s the possibility of finding similar inspiration in gazing up at star-crossed skies where dreams take flight and soar towards the vast expanse that cradles endless possibilities.
While some may get other impressions, the new album isn’t simply a collection of cowboy songs. Far from it in fact. However, given the embossed steel guitar playing and the studied guidance of veteran player and producer Steve Dawson — a notable presence in Canada’s expansive roots music scene — the Latimers are able to offer up a lovely, shimmering example of seductive Americana, emphasizing a sound that soothes, seduces and shines. It’s all but impossible to walk away feeling anything but enchanted.
That said, Leaf Rapids aren’t necessary newcomers to the musical trappings that define our northern neighbors. Former members of the band Nathan, they traipsed similar terrain before, albeit in different circumstances. Yet where that outfit (newly re-dubbed Nathan Music CO., possibly to avert confusion when it comes to Google searches) could count on the backing of a full band and an unabashed rock regimen, Leaf Rapids takes a softer, subtler approach that’s infinitely more sublime. Keri Latimer’s vocals are soft, supple and seemingly childlike at times, while the harmonies from her husband Devin manage to consistently convey a gentle sheen that not only glides ever so gently over the musical ménage, but also smooths over any rough or abrasive edges in the process. “Virtual Machine” and “Galaxie 500” — the latter eerily, yet not so ironically, reminiscent of the sounds identified with the band of the same name — comes across with the gentility and simplicity of a lullaby. When they do pick up the pace, as with the trio of tunes “Healing Feeling”, “Welcome Stranger” and “Gravity and a Ladder of Gold”, the combination of twang and treble suggests they achieve far more than simply the sound of one tone wonders.
Still, those looking for edgier intents will find it in their unlikely cover of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World”, in which Keri’s seductive stance mitigates the ominous overtones of the original. It’s an unexpected inclusion, but one that adds further to the quotient of interest and intrigue. It was a good move to make, and it suggests that further efforts might find them diversifying their style even more. Given the assurance and skill they demonstrate this first time out, Lucky Stars might be viewed in retrospect as a remarkably fortuitous achievement.