Basia Bulat is a Juno and Polaris Prize nominated songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Her latest record, Good Advice, was recorded and produced alongside Jim James from My Morning Jacket and also features contributions from members of bands including Houndmouth, Twin Limb and Floating Action.
The early Basia Bulat records have been largely stripped back and folky affairs, perhaps most noteworthy for her intriguing instrument choices from autoharp to charango which we’re reliably informed is a type of Andean string instrument from the lute family. However on her latest record, Basia eschews her folk traditionalism into something considerably more modern and pop-tinged. The songs may have their roots in country, gospel and soul, but they’re littered with contemporary instrumentation and a delightful sheen.
Whilst Good Advice was recorded in Jim James’ home-town of Louisville, Kentucky, Basia is actually based some 600 miles away in Montreal, Canada, and originally from Toronto. Toronto is the most populous city in Canada and the fourth most populous in the whole of North America, it is also home to sports teams the Blue Jays (baseball, named after the bird and because they play in blue), the Maple Leafs (ice hockey, because Canada) and the Raptors (basketball, because Dinosaurs, and they were formed in the year Jurassic Park came out). Famous musical offerings from the city include bands such as Broken Social Scene, Do Make Say Think and Anvil, as well as solo artists including Feist, Owen Pallett and producer deadmau5.
Growing up with a mother who taught piano, Basia’s life has always had a musical leaning, but she only began to share them with the world back in 2005 when she independently released her self-titled debut EP. That record caught the ear of Rough Trade Records who would go on to release her first full length album, 2007’s Oh, My Darling, as well as handling the American release of her second record, 2010’s Heart Of My Own. That record was released in her native Canada by Secret City, who would also handle the worldwide release of both her third album, 2013’s Tall Tall Shadows and her upcoming fourth album Good Advice.
That voice! Oh my that voice! Seemingly as comfortable carrying laid-bare ballads or effortlessly rising above complex, dense arrangements, it’s just a gift of a voice; powerful but tender, capable of carrying a huge emotive weight one moment, then cutting you down with dead-eyed, unwavering coldness the next. Discussing making the album, producer Jim James, himself the owner of a fine pair of lungs, has spoke of, “hearing her voice just exploding out of her soul” and recalling how it, “brought us all to tears in the control room”.
Beyond the sheer quality of her vocal performance, Good Advice is an adventurous and intriguing collection. It’s a collection of beautifully produced tracks that more than justifies the 600 mile car journey to work with Jim James. The pair seem to be a match made in heaven; what started as acoustic demos became fully fledged breezy songs, and with the change in sound seemed to come a new found confidence and attitude in Basia’s recorded persona. It’s a sound that perfectly suits the lyricism of the record, as Good Advice is a record that’s full of heartache certainly, but also a record about discovering yourself and revelling in a new found strength that comes from a place of great pain.
Someday Soon, a song that seems to glisten with a sort of energetic sadness, is like an antithesis of the Vera Lynn classic, while Vera found strength in knowing her love would come back, Basia seems inspired by the thought that, “I’ll be gone someday soon”. The Garden bristles with reverberating keys that sound almost euphoric, in complete contrast to the emotive vocal, which sounds heartbroken even though the lyrics vehemently state, “I won’t look back, I know I won’t be lost”. Elsewhere tracks like Let Me In and La La Lie, mark Basia out as a contemporary of Natalie Prass or Cat Power, as she fuses her alternative routes with a glistening pop sheen.
It’s a trio of tracks at the heart of the record that truly lift it to something spectacular; the title track Good Advice combines a gospel influence with some lightly psych-tinged bass playing, Infamous has an absolutely huge joyous chorus, but at its heart it’s quietly ambivalent about a fading relationship, simply pleading to a lover, “don’t waste my time pretending”. Best of all is recent single Fool, layers of organ, synth and steady rhythmic drums underpin a realisation that despite the pain caused, “I’m still your fool”.
Good Advice is a record that is very open in its courting of pop music, “pop songs can take all those big statements and those big feelings that you have,” she says. “You don’t need to necessarily have everything so detailed because everybody understands. Everybody understands those feelings.” Some people might argue that a more nuanced approach, might make for a more interesting, or at least forward thinking record, but this is a record that’s more interested in delivering an emotional gut punch than making you think, and if you ask us, all the better for that.
Good Advice is out via Secret City on February 12th. Basia Bulat tours the UK in April, click HERE for details.