Priya Thomas is Blood
Heron (Renovation Tracks)
"I had nothing to my name, but my blood was liquid gold"
- Priya Thomas
In the liner notes to her stunningly uncrafty new album, singer-songwriter Priya Thomas writes of coming off the road, dusty and heavy and "smelling like a New Mexico hotel." Her stuff was still in boxes; the house in ramshackle shape. She set about renovation, but it wasn't just walls and fixtures that needed work. Priya Thomas is Blood Heron is an unguarded album of betrayal, cutting losses and creating things from scratch. And although it doesn't sound like Thomas is finished fixing herself up yet, I like what she's done with the album.
Opening track Your Guitar, My Undoing begins abruptly, its drawling strum putting Rickie Lee Jones in the dark dream-pop universe of Mazzie Star. Thomas, on her fourth album, is not one for plans: Come-and-go boys are fleeting, like storms. The memorable Had I Known, I Would Have Declined - jagged, ragged and Dylan-like - is an unsent letter to a past lover, with Thomas thinking clearly in hindsight. After the baptismal Dakota From the Hebrew, the angry Vigilante is strident, with monstrous guitar noises.
The Montreal-raised and Toronto-based multi-instrumentalist wrote the material for Blood Heron while on tour. Farewell Creek is southern-Gothic ukulele blues, while Wine, Moonshine, Sugar Beams has a Mojave drone. "To the end, to the end, to the end, row your boat" is a relentless chant from someone whose boat does not go merrily down streams.
Upon finishing the tour, Thomas unpacked her instruments and recorded on analog tape without much forethought. The sounds are at once grungy and graceful, with an omnichord's pretty tings, for example, heard amid tougher tones. Although there are a few folks involved, mostly it's Thomas, with co-producer Stephen Pitkin of Elliott Brood on drums on half the tracks.
She doesn't sound like him, but Thomas reminds me of the late Chris Whitley, a rough-cut roots rocker who didn't so much perform his music as exude it. It's raw stuff - all guts, bones and jugular veins - and it's something to hear it build from nothing.
Priya Thomas plays London, Ont., tomorrow; Hamilton, Thursday; Waterloo, Ont., Nov. 19; Toronto's Tranzac, Nov. 20; Ottawa, Nov. 21; Vancouver's Railway, Nov. 23; Victoria, Nov. 24; Montreal, Nov. 29.