No matter how much we consider ourselves fairly knowledgeable of the Canadian folk-roots music scene, we accept that we’re still only scratching the surface, and that there is a ton of great music out there still to be discovered. This past June, we learned about “My Father Loved Me,” the latest album from Canadian-American singer-songwriter Rachael Kilgour – a name unfamiliar to us, but one we were eager to learn more about when sampling this deeply reflective album about dealing with the death of her father.
Scouring Rachael’s touring schedule – and receiving positive feedback from friends up north who attended some of her Ontario shows – we could not believe our good fortune when learning that Rachael was to perform at Historic Cooper’s House in Columbia, MD. As one of our favorite listening rooms, we quickly reserved seats – and made the trip from PA on a perfect mid-November evening to spend two hours enjoying music from this Duluth, MN-based artist. Originally booked to perform at this venue a few years back, the arrival of a global pandemic would force this rescheduled date – but in hindsight, proved beneficial for hearing a selection of new album tracks, and the tales surrounding their origins.
“Well, it’s been three plus years to get me here, and I don’t regret the long drive,” Rachael offered as she commenced tuning her guitar – the freshly replaced strings not wanted to play ball and remain in tune at first. “It’s so hard at a house concert, you get so casual and then you get on stage and are not prepared at all. I’ve just been eating cheese,” she added in jest, still fighting with the tuner. “I left Duluth at the end of September and went on tour. Played a ton of dates in Southern Ontario, and then I had this date waiting in the wings. And I thought, it’s the end of October, I could go home, or I could just stay out on the road forever. And that’s what I did. I did it. I survived. I survived the last couple of weeks and here I am.”
As the youngest daughter of a Southern Ontario man, Rachael wanted to further honor his legacy by recording the album in his home country. Arriving in Toronto, Rachael connected with JUNO Award winning artist Rose Cousins – who both helped navigate the recording process and co-produced the album – laying down these tracks at Union Sound Co. in Toronto under the watchful eye of legendary engineer Chris Stringer (Donovan Woods / The Good Lovelies). Rachael’s new found Canadian friends also utilized their connections to bring in some top-notch studio players, calling upon Dean Drouillard (guitars), Devon Henderson (bass) and Joshua Van Tassel (drums/synth) to help bring Rachael’s vision to life – not a bad team at all, let’s be honest.
“This album that I made about my dad, a lot of it is me just trying to figure out who dad was, because I never really got the chance to learn about him,” Rachael shared during the show. “He had dementia for the last decade of his life, and he was just a little different, and I was pretty young and only really interested until it was too late. So, I was trying to figure out who he was and who I am, and try to make sense of all that.” Prior to performing “Dad Worked Hard,” Rachael would provide a little more insight. “Dad was a builder, he was a contractor by trade,” she offered. “For the most part, my memory of him was that he was at work. He was late for dinner. He was late for everything, and my mom was annoyed at him, and he was working again. He worked so hard, he just got so tired.”
Created during the period of time spanning her father’s dementia diagnosis through to his eventual passing, and the aftermath, these songs were a lifeline for Rachael to keep pace with her own emotional toil and grief. “The songs became a reassurance of sorts, beamed out to her father beyond the grave: your humble life was worthy, your flaws were human, you love is still with me” (Official Press Release). Rachael would take time on this given night to rewind the clock a little further, to share some of her earliest recollections and observations about her parents. “I’m a very romantic kid, but was raised in a family very devoid of passion,” she stated. “I longed for it. I remember having a big question mark over my parent’s marriage – how did these two human beings come together? WHY did these two human beings come together, over many miles? My dad was from Southern Ontario, and my mom from northern Minnesota.”
Steering the conversation towards the origins of “How I Was Made,” Rachael continued this thread. “They met in their mid-20s and presumably liked one another enough to keep up a correspondence and then very quickly get married, or so the story goes,” she recalled. “But by the time I came along, as the baby of the family, there really wasn’t much evidence of it. And from what I gather from my siblings, they have memories of them being just sweet to each other. I didn’t see a lot of it and since I wasn’t seeing signs of affection, instead I just begged for stories.”
Adding that she made numerous attempts to question her parents individually at times about their relationship, Rachael would articulate her disappointment – that her dad really did not talk about his feelings (“he was from that era where men just did not do that”) and that her mom was very stoic and factual, as opposed to the impressive romantic that Rachael really hoped she could be. Although, she recognized a shift, and discussed how her mom talks about him more since he has passed: “well, you reminded me of your father there,” she added. “Your dad would be so proud of you. She just brings him into the room a lot more than I expected, considering how often she wanted him out of it. So, now I have this war of my parents in my head; which one do I take after?”
Pausing to perform a selection of tunes from her earlier albums, Rachael offered tales of her own marriage, of becoming a step-parent to a young daughter, and her eventual divorce and loss of contact. This provided a nice seque back to the conversation about her own mother-daughter relationship during her teen years. “I came out to my mom as a 17-or-18-year-old in high school, but I wasn’t worried that she would have a problem with the concept of me dating a girl, it was admitting that I was dating anyone, which was really embarrassing and vulnerable,” Rachael commenced. “My mom was very solitary, she doesn’t feel anything very strongly – it was not a thing in our family to tease the kids about who they have a crush on, it just wasn’t talked about. To me now, when I look back, I don’t know how she did it. Her response was always, ‘Ok, well you’re fine then.’ What I wanted more than anything was her to cup my little face and say, ‘You’re really upset and I love you so much, and that you’re going to be okay’ – but it was just, ‘Well then,’ with a little pat, ‘You’re okay, looks like it’s bed time.’ But I’m grateful to mom, because she loves me.”
Back in early October, we included the track “Ontario” in our monthly Snappy Singles feature – a potent cut from the album, but nothing could have prepared us for the intensity of the live version Rachael would provide in MD. Based around a tale of taking a family road trip to visit her extended Ontario family provided a fleeting glimpse into her childhood memories of that cross-country trek from Minnesota to Aylmer – a small community near London, ON – before disaster struck. Shifting both tone and momentum, Rachael’s powerful, emotion-filled recollection of her tired father falling asleep at the wheel was mesmerizing: the car losing control and rolling not once, but twice, and fortunately not taking any lives in the process. The vocal shift from joy to pain as the song progressed was magnificent to observe as Rachael relived those experiences, recalled those memories that for the longest time remain locked away as a family secret, never to be discussed with the outside world. “Whoops,” she would share, as the audience grasped the significance of those pieces falling into place through Rachael’s re-telling of that story… Outstanding!
- ***Unknown Title***
- Dad Worked Hard
- How I Was Made
- Rabbit In The Road
- Family Secrets
- Ready Freddie
- I Pray
- Holy Are We
- ***Unknown Title***
- Heart On Fire
- My Father Loved Me
- The Smell Of Autumn Leaves