This album first came to my attention when it was included in the 2015 Polaris Prize longlist. I suspect I was not the only person who was unfamiliar with Steph Cameron’s music, so I placed an order for the CD and waited (not so) patiently for its arrival. (Ah, the days before Apple Music.)
According to her website, Steph Cameron recorded this project in just three days, and has a considerable history of busking across Canada. The confidence and power of her music definitely reflect the latter, but not the former – none of these tracks sound rushed or unpolished. This collection of songs features deep, moving lyrics accompanied only by guitar and harmonica – and indeed, nothing more is needed. The guitar playing is precise and strong, matching the occasionally shattering lyrics perfectly.
These are songs of rootlessness, of heartache, of finding betrayal where one would normally expect safety. Cameron takes on topics that others might avoid – “Poppa, You Can Take Me Home” is one such example, detailing a clearly dysfunctional relationship that the song’s protagonist has no apparent intention of leaving. “Goodbye Molly” documents the agony of awaiting an inevitable natural disaster while trying to carry on with life: “Molly’s sweetly singing / Tin roof’s playing the rhythm / Jesus don’t you flood these wretched plains / Pancakes on the griddle / Hot coffee on the stove / Jesus won’t you stop these driving rains.”
I hope Steph Cameron records another project soon – I would love to hear more songs from her. While shiny, happy, ‘poppy’ songs sometimes are what we need to get through the day, we also need beautiful music that reflects the reality of what life is and what it is not. This is her gift, and she uses it well on this album.