Lindi Ortega, Whitney Rose, and most recently, Colter Wall–all exhibits for the argument that Canada is producing some very cool and unique country artists, artists that are taking their own perspective and usually Canadian folk influences and lending them to American country music to create some very good and frankly, just cool, music. I could add other names too, these are just the three I felt most qualified to comment on given my familiarity with their material. The latest artist we can add to the evidence is Sarah Jane Scouten, who blends country, folk, swing, and sometimes even more contemporary styles on her latest record, When the Bloom Falls From the Rose.
It’s an interesting title for a record, and nature is indeed referenced quite a lot in Sarah Jane’s imagery. Colter Wall’s writing is slightly similar; he writes about the past in story, while Sarah Jane Scouten echoes the past in the primitive metaphors and images she references in her songs. There’s a beauty in the way she writes–“in an acre of shells, you’ll find just one pearl” has been blowing my mind for weeks in the way it explains in such simplicity the rarity of finding someone to love. It’s such a simple statement on the surface, but think of the vastness of the beach, and then apply that to one of the next lines in the same song, “How could I ever love somebody else when I know that you’re in the world?” That line on its own might be in any love song, and it’s beautiful on its own too, but after you’ve just realized this person is a pearl in a beach full of shells, then yeah, of course, how can she not love him? “Acre of Shells” is not only the standout of this album, it’s one of the best songs of 2017. She uses other cool imagery like this in the title track and in “Rosehips for Scurvy” as well, and you get the sense that Sarah Jane Scouten has a deep and profound love and respect for nature.
There are some other cool moments in the writing, though none are as brilliant as that opener of “Acre of shells,” but that’s not the strongest point of the record overall. The strongest point, and I’m so glad I get to say this about a folk/Americana album this year, is the production. No, not just the production itself, the variety in production. The title track manages to blend the traditional and contemporary very nicely and features some pretty cool fiddle, sort of like the way Aaron Watson might feature it if he leaned toward folk. I love when fiddle is used to drive songs along like this; it doesn’t always have to arrive in a fiddle solo. There’s the swinging “Coup de Ville Rag,” which is cool enough to feature a clarinet. ON slower stuff like “Acre of Shells” and especially “Crack in Your Windshield,” there are extra little production details that frankly, a lot of other people just don’t pay attention to which make these songs come alive and separate Scouten from so many other songwriters. Much credit goes to her producer Andre Wahl for bringing out the best in her and in these songs. There’s even “Bang Bang,” which is rocking, or maybe rockabilly, since it’s still really throwback, which comes after “Acre of Shells” to be fun and bright and just plain refreshing. Who knew that in 2017, you could actually get some personality on a record like this? That’s no disrespect to any record I’ve reviewed here, more so a comment to the ones I’ve heard but couldn’t get into because despite good writing, they lacked something. There have also been some I’ve enjoyed immensely that still could have benefited from a fun moment like “Bang Bang” or “Paul,” which comes later on this album and sees Sarah Jane scouten cheerfully explaining that she can’t be tied down, or more accurately, “the more you try to make me good, the more that I’ll do bad.” I’ts just so refreshing to see her embracing this less serious side of herself, and equally to see the variety in production and mood on this album.
This is not a perfect album, but it gets so many things right that other projects, especially in 2017, have lacked. The songwriting is not necessarily great throughout, although in some places it’s very strong, and on “Acre of Shells,” it’s absolutely fantastic. But the variety and the production and really, the care that was put into this album by both Sarah Jane Scouten and her producer should be commended.
Cool artist. Nice, pleasant little record.