What does it sound like?:
In a crowded field of female singer-songwriters, Carrie Tree releases her third album, courtesy of the crowd funding generosity of her fans. Her voice is as silky as the petals of a prize-winning rose. She opens The Canoe with a whisper, soft and tender, laying flowers and incense by a lake but by the penultimate track, she unleashes her full range from delicate to destructive, falsetto to grumbling baritone, to convey the complexities of The Red Clay Woman.
Markus Sieber produces and contributes arrangements. He is known for his warm, natural ambient music. He brings a variety of acoustic instruments, ngoni, jarana, sitar, ronroco and a balafon (an African xylophone) to accompany Carrie’s familiar palette of piano, guitar, harp, flute, glockenspiel, clarinet and cello. His skill is to combine all these instruments, yet retain a minimalist, delicate feel, all the better to bring out the quiet, unassuming charm of Carrie’s songs. It helps that all the musicians show admirable restraint. Between them, they cast a spell.
Carrie sings with her chin high and her jaw set firm. The experiences she portrays are personal and mystical, rooted in a deep respect for ancestry and tradition. These are songs about love, life, birth, death, all the really important topics, and they are set at home or in the countryside. There is a calm strength within them, even when her heart is broken, comforting like freshly baked bread or milky Horlicks. And that strength is required to endure the mayhem of the outside world where there is sensory overload from technology and family disruption from enforced immigration.
The Canoe is a mature album that sets its own tone and proceeds at its own pace. It is deceptively simple. The lyrics are detailed in their imagery and precise in their syntax. The music matches as snuggly as lovers. There is a recurring lyrical theme of water (the album is entitled The Canoe for a reason). At times, the piano chatters like a babbling brook, the percussion ripples like a tide or the cello suggests a threatening undercurrent.
There is a point in the middle where the fourth, acoustic guitar-led melody in a row seems very similar to the ones before. However, those moments of stillness ready the listener for the final tracks. Red Clay Woman is a brooding, emotional summation of everything The Canoe touches upon, inspired by a piece of pottery and the vision of an old woman it evokes. It’s the album’s longest track whose meanderings and vocal gymnastics are reminiscent of Tim Buckley in full flow. Finally, the bluesy Summertime closes the cycle, bringing us back to separated lovers as the rivers thaw and the sun warms their backs.
The Canoe is a beautifully crafted album that, like the very best, creates its own mood. Its secrets reveal themselves more as time goes by. Don’t let it drift past unnoticed.
What does it all *mean*?
The Canoe is a ravishing album you can lose yourself in for hours. It does require the investment of time and the payment of close attention to be fully appreciated, even if you weren’t a contributor to the crowd fund.
Goes well with…
A free afternoon with nothing much else to do.
Might suit people who like…
An oasis of calm in a world of chaos.