BELLE PLAINE – Malice, Mercy, Grief And Wrath (own label)

MaliceSharing her name with the Minnesota city that translates as ‘beautiful prairie’. raised in a remote Saskatchewan town of just 45 people, it’s understandable that Plaine’s horizons look beyond such confines of such an existence, her new album, Malice, Mercy, Grief And Wrath, full of questioning, of the past, present and the future, exploring autobiographically-related themes of grief and loss though songs steeped in classic country influences.

A particular case in point is the twangy guitar shuffle ‘Golden Ring’, a song relating to her parents’ painful divorce after many years, Plaine actually wearing their rings, which she inherited after their deaths, on a chain round her neck in their memory. It’s preceded by the album opener, ‘For All Those Who I Love’, on which, accompanied by Ian Cameron’s pedal steel, she sings in her father’s voice of his determination to build a life for himself and his family as a farmer (“I’m gonna build the life my father was denied. I won’t live a hungry man”), only for dreams to end in regret with “But I never measured up./We had two strong babes/Who grew afraid of the man I’d become”.

The theme of the sacrifices involved in following your dreams continue into Squared Up, here in context of the travelling musician as she sings “Oh, you bring home the saddest of songs/When you’re out on the road. Heartbreak all on your sleeve/For the whole world to know/How long will you chase this dream That’s so clear from the stage?”.

She follows an acoustic slow waltzing cover of Blake Berglund’s ‘Taxes And Death And You’ with ‘Is It Cheating?’ an upbeat snare and piano driven honky tonker that, backed by fellow prairie dweller Colter Wall, shows her lyrically playful side with its chorus of “Is it cheatin’ if you don’t get laid? Is it a gig if you don’t get paid?”.

She shows her bluesier side on the darker-toned organ-backed ‘Are We Good?’ a co-write with Berglund about two lovers trying to sort out the frictions between them before returning to family history with ‘Laila Sady Johnson Wasn’t Beaten By No Train’. Reminiscent of Bobbie Gentry, it’s a brushed snare uptempo train-time shuffle, the last line of the verses echoed by the backing singers, that tells the story of how, back in 1949, while out checking on her potato patch, her grandmother was distracted by a berry crop and drove on to the railway line oblivious to the approaching train that struck her car. Now in her 80s, she clearly lived to tell the tale, the song (from whence comes the album title) morphing into a message about the miracles that let us escape life’s locomotives.

It ends back in more melancholic but hopeful pastures with the fiddle and cello-accompanied ‘Radio Dreams’, a song that counterbalances the death of her mother within five months of being diagnoses with cancer and the premature birth of her niece in the same hospital 23 days earlier. The final track is the old-school waltztime ‘Rock Bottom’, a pedal steel streaked song of wisdom about valuing what you have rather than lamenting what you never achieved, echoing ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ as she sings “Once you’ve seen the bottom of the barrel/Watched your hopes fall down from the sky/You’re free from the chilling momentum/That builds in the old downhill slide” and that “If Buddha ceded earthly possessions/And Christ never wore any shoes/You could say I’m keeping good company/When my life’s all I have left to lose”. She puts the prayer in prairie.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

‘Golden Ring’ – official video featuring Megan Nash: