With a few albums now under her belt, Jenn Grant has made a big splash in a relatively short time. Her last record, Honeymoon Punch, was nominated for a Juno and long-listed for the Polaris Prize. Closely following it, The Beautiful Wild comes with the progressive sense that the honeymoon has passed and we are now about to experience her music in a more sincere, bare-bones way. Yet, there is something about this less made-up version that things seem to look just as good.
Grant’s signature sweet vocals chime and croon of desire and simple pleasures, taking her across Canada, the States, Germany and, now, to Japan and Australia. Everywhere she goes, people seem to fall that much more under her spell, but after all those adventures and trying out more electric sounds, she’s returning to the lush acoustic layering of sitar, harp, fiddle, bass, drums, guitar and flute. In order to create atmospheric depths and harmonic heights necessary in her songwriting, she invited Old Man Luedecke, Rose Cousins, Erin Costello, David Christianson, Kinley Dowling and the Halifax Boys’ Honour Choir.
Many of those enlisted musicians are also members of the flourishing Maritime community, demonstrating the connection that she has maintained with those roots. It is a sort of return that seems to permeate The Beautiful Wild on every level. Deep musical traditions run strongly in the pulse of that place, but it often comes through in a Celtic undertone and various performance rituals associated with it. “I feel like, when you’re from the East Coast you spend a certain amount of time trying to get away from that stuff,” says Grant. “You grow up somewhere and you don’t realize how beautiful it is until you’re older and you want to move back. Until then you feel suffocated by it.”
The nostalgia she’s now experiencing comes through in her choice of album artwork as well, which dons a close-up portrait of her doe-eyed gaze in a haze of eternal sunshine, like a sentimental image with the details blotted out. Although much of the music was written with winter in mind, she began writing it in the summer. When winter came and she was that much more immersed, the songs became a much bigger part of her life. She speaks of trying to capture “passing moments of time, and recognizing the beautiful moments” and telling of “romantic ideas and stories that are kind of twisted up,” adding her thought that, “it feels a little more fragile in that way.”
The process of its creation has also been markedly different than her previous three albums. Where she has usually compiled about a year and a half worth of songwriting and pared it down into a more cohesive record, this one came out in a sort of creative tidal wave. In the midst of so much development and careful construction, she found her interests teetering on the brink of something much different than what she had collected and scrapped it to make way for the intuitive artistic pique she was suddenly able to channel. Describing it as having been like a “spontaneous burst of energy,” she declares, “I’m happiest with this record, and feel like I’m kind of at the beginning of learning how to write in new ways… it is an exciting experience.”
Catch Jenn Grant at the Ironwood (Calgary) on October 8 and 9 and at the Haven (Edmonton) on October 12 and 13. All dates are with Cuff the Duke.
By Cait Lepla
Photo: Mat Dunlap