THE SMALL GLORIES – Wondrous Traveler (Self-released TSGCD002)

Wondrous TravelerFounding Canadian bluegrass trio The Wailin’ Jennies in 2002, following the self-titled debut EP and 2004’s 40 Days album, player Cara Luft left to again pursue a solo career. Two albums and an EP on the line, she’s again tied her reins to another hitching post, teaming up with earthier-sounding Winnipeg-based fellow Canadian singer-songwriter JD Edwards for this duo project. Fronting his own eponymous band, Edwards wrote and previously recorded opener ‘Had I Paid’ for their 2011 album, Roads and Roads; however, here it’s transformed from a punchy country rock tune with plangent guitar into an urgent bluegrass number (with a melody line sometimes reminiscent of ‘Jolene’) driven by handclaps percussion and Luft’s clawhammer banjo, their contrasting voices melding perfectly.

Edwards contributes to the writing of three other tracks, first up being ‘Home’, which, co-penned with Luft and her Darlingford collaborator, Lewis Melville, is the gentle, yearning folksy number with a lovely soaring choral midsection. A co-write with Erin Propp, the spare acoustic ‘Old Garage’ is another of his old songs, a slow, near six-minute jazzy-blues reminiscence about his grandfather on which he takes lead and also plays trombone. Trading verses and sharing the chorus, Luft and Edwards bring a British note to the collaboration with the gradually building, 70s Laurel Canyon country-rock coloured swayer ‘FastTurning World’, a co-write with Bella Hardy. Luft paired with Hardy at the Crossing Borders International Song writing exchange in 2013, from which both that and ‘Time Wanders On’ come, an uptempo banjo driven number with Edwards on harmonica and Luft taking lead.

There’s two other Luft-penned tracks, ‘Holding On’ a light and airy co-write with Karla Anderson that dates back to 2012, while the self-penned, punchy chorus ode to hope ‘Something To Hold Onto’ sees Edwards taking lead vocal, with Scott Nygaard on acoustic guitar.

The three remaining tracks are all non-originals. Featuring violin, upright bass, piano and military snare snaps and building to a  soaring climax, Winnipeg-based songwriter Greg MacPherson’s ‘1000 Stars’ holds a special place in that it was the song that brought them together when they were fortuitously paired to sing a song neither of them knew at Winnipeg’sWest End Cultural Centre’s 25th anniversary event in October 2012.

The two others close out proceedings, kicking off with the brisk shuffling everything and handclaps folk-gospel duet stomp of ‘Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key’, one of the lost Woody Guthrie lyrics put to music by Billy Bragg for the Mermaid Avenue tribute. An amalgam of two traditional Sacred Harp hymns, ‘Wondrous Love’ and ‘The Traveler’, the title track provides the final number, a tour de force that starts out with just banjo and Luft’s tremulous voice before, around two minutes in, the tempo and volume pick up as the drums kick in, Andrew McCrorie-Shand provides hurdy gurdy and Edwards and Luft share raspy lead vocals.

Luft once said she left the Wailin’ Jennys because she felt the music was too delicate and she felt the need for something with more dirt under the fingernails. The soil here is rich. Mike Davies

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Recording ‘Wondrous Traveler’: