Sarah Harmer is back, Jessie Reyez covers a classic, Kathleen Edwards is dreading the holidays and the late Leonard Cohen has made it to the dark side of the moon. Songs from those Canadian artists and five others make up The Globe and Mail’s best-of-November playlist.
New Low, by Sarah Harmer
Singer-songwriter Sarah Harmer has been away so long – no album since 2010′s Oh Little Fire – that one might have forgotten she was ever a thing, let alone a one-time rocker. The former Weeping Tile front woman is back with New Low, the danceable lead single for a new album to come in February. “If this gets us to our feet, who knows?” sings the eco-activist and musician on a song that jangles and bops persuasively. Harmer believes in grassroots movements, emphasis on movement.
Crazy, by Jessie Reyez
Hot off a Grammy nomination, the soulful singer-songwriter Reyez has gone Crazy. She does a wonderful job with the Willie Nelson-written Patsy Cline classic, somehow making the torch tune sound like a Christmas song. One wonders how lonely eggnog feels the other 11 months of the year.
It’s Christmastime (Let’s Just Survive), by Kathleen Edwards
This one actually is a Christmas song, albeit a darkly humourous one. “Mom’s criticizing dad’s mashed potatoes, but he’s four martinis in so he doesn’t notice/ someone let the dog lick the gravy boat, and now the air in here is unbearable.” The kitty chorus is literally the cat’s meow, but the song also reminds us of Edwards’s talent for affecting chord changes – a gift, one might say.
The Benefits of Being Alone, by Rose Cousins
The awkward holiday moments of Kathleen Edwards’s It’s Christmastime might have Rose Cousins nodding in agreement. A piano-pounding, carefree three minutes is the Halifax singer-songwriter’s salute to solo reverie. “I can play my favourite sad song to remember how it goes,” she sings. One doesn’t have to be the loneliest number, the old Harry Nilsson hit notwithstanding.
Outside of Cool, V. 2, by Kliffs
“When you hear this confession, don’t give it no pity, it’s just a sad song to add to the tower of plenty.” Is the tower of plenty anything like Leonard Cohen’s Tower of Song? Because this sensual, low-riding, bass-driven track from the Berlin-based Canadian duo’s debut album Temporary Cures is so Cohen-like it should be wearing a fedora.
The Hills, by Leonard Cohen
If Kliffs’s Outside of Cool, V. 2 sounds like an indie-rock Leonard Cohen, The Hills from Cohen’s new posthumous album imagines the late bard in a Pink Floyd afterworld. The track is produced by Patrick Watson, a Montreal maestro who sends Cohen’s poetry into deep space.
Eclipse (Ashley), by Braids
The bittersweet flip-side of songs written as tributes to friends is that the friend is often someone who is no longer around. Raphaelle Standell-Preston of the Montreal art-rockers Braids isn’t wearing black for a love song to her pal, the much-alive Quebec poet Ashley Obscura. An undulating piano carries heartfelt sentiments, presented in a voice that stylistically manages to pay tribute to both Joni Mitchell and Alanis Morissette.
Hot Tears, by Leif Vollebekk
“Before you go, come say hello," sings the mopey Montrealer, “because I’m never gonna find the way to say goodbye.” But one begs to differ. A piano-based weeper will have lovers reaching for Kleenexes and Bruce Hornsby calling his lawyer. Why do the best things have to end in tears?