By Mike Dunn
CALGARY – The two years since Belle Plaine’s last release – the live album The Unrequited Love (2016) – has seen the Regina-based singer-songwriter make changes in her sound, departing from her smooth coffeehouse jazz style to a darker, more evocative folk and country style. The change was gradual, the result of a conscious shift to incorporate both her surroundings and memories of the music she heard growing up in rural Saskatchewan into her sound.
“I didn’t grow up playing jazz, I grew up playing and listening to country music, whether it was voluntary or not,” she says with a laugh over the phone from a hotel room in Fargo, North Dakota. “It was what was around me in Tisdale (SK). It’s kind of ubiquitous with agriculture, you know? And I was always curious about the earlier forms of that music, too. I think what I learned from jazz was an appreciation for the complexities of music and melody, and how songwriting can support melody.”
Plaine’s growth as a songwriter and performer shines through on her new full-length Malice, Mercy, Grief and Wrath. “This is the first record where I can do shows solo, where the arrangement of the songs doesn’t require the presence of the band all the time,” she notes. “It’ll be really interesting to go out on tour solo, and play smaller shows, in coffeehouses or folk clubs.”
Malice, Mercy, Grief and Wrath shines with textures of classic country music, including some of the hip jazz changes that were commonplace with mid-60s Nashville-produced records, while keeping an eye toward the future sonically, with parts that might not seem out of place on a Wilco album. The path of country music has led Plaine across Canada, with multiple western tours and trips out east to her credit, but it’s been her recent trips to eastern Kentucky and to Nashville that have really helped her find a closer connection to the heartfelt nuances of the style.
“I love Nashville, all the music, and the venues there, and going down this second run, it feels like we know more people, and we’re better acquainted with the community there,” she comments. “But in Kentucky, and particularly in the Appalachian region, the community there has really held a door open for us, supported us and helped guide us through the area with information about the area, pickup gigs, and places to crash. Musically, we love what’s happening there, the songwriting is outstanding. They’re writing about what’s happening in that neck of the woods from a first-person perspective; their part of the world is a lot like Saskatchewan. The people are so kind, but it’s rural, somewhat isolated, and I grew up rural and isolated, so that’s probably what creates such an affinity for Kentucky for me. It makes it feel a bit like home.”
Belle Plaine will be in Calgary for Wide Cut Weekend, running Oct. 12-14, at venues throughout the city.Belle Plaine, Grief and Wrath, Malice, Mercy, Wide Cut Weekend