Basia Bulat – Tall Tall Shadow
Secret City, 2013
Even if Basia Bulat weren’t Canadian, I would have still made comparisons to Leonard Cohen in my head. Both artists dabble in a sort of elevated folk music, rooted in deceptive simplicity but packing the sort of punch that reaches right into your chest and wraps its hand around your heart. Or maybe I am just easily charmed. Either way, I always feels a little pang of jealousy when I realize that Canadians have a special talent that we Americans can’t even touch.
There’s something so pleasant about the little Rhodes piano bit that opens the record. It drew me in with an “ooh, this is nice” and then left me flat on the floor when Bulat unleashed her gorgeous vocals. There’s something earthy and raw in Bulat’s voice. A throwback to female folksingers past but with a more pronounced pop sensibility. Though the melodies straight-up kill, song after song, there’s a murkiness that lurks in Bulat’s songs. A little bit of that aforementioned Leonard Cohen-ness; something dark and tapping into the furthest reaches of the soul.
Bulat popped onto my radar when she covered Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” for AV Club’s “Undercover” series. Her rendition of the song featured just a hammered harp and her lovely voice and it really satisfied this little spot I have in my heart for great female vocalists with an alt-country bent. Bulat seems to have a penchant for America instruments of bygone days, notably utilizing an autoharp on her early work. Here, the autoharp is sequestered to the album’s sparest track “It Can’t Be You.”
Tall Tall Shadow is clearly Basia Bulat’s big leap out of niche folk into of big, sweeping alt-country/folk. While that genre might not be reinventing the wheel, folk music is one of those things that just stays timeless and satisfying when done well. The standout “Wires” encapsulates everything Bulat does in a beautiful little nutshell. The arrangement is packed full of odd little instruments, but the song is carried by a lovely melody overrides everything and smoothes everything into an impenetrable little pop song. Whether she is backed by a full band of roots rockers or alone in a room with just some ancient instrument and her voice, Basia Bulat has the pipes, the talent, and the charm to melt your heart.
"Tall Tall Shadow"
"Wires" (as played on autoharp, really she could play it any which way and it'd still be wonderful)