Hailing from Manitoba, Carly Dow released “Comet,” her full-length sophomore album on October 19th, and with just a short sampling of the opening track, “Brightest Time Of Year,” this collection of ten songs made our short list for a review. We may be well into November at this time, but believe me, if like us, you have a penchant for some great roots-Americana music, “Comet” is an album that you should absolutely be checking out too. If you love some well-crafted lyrics, with an added weakness for some clawhammer banjo too, drop everything else right now and make this one your next listening pleasure.
With song titles such as “Sunlight Remembers,” “Constellations,” and “Something Lost,” images of the great outdoors are magically created in my mind, making this a perfect choice as an accompaniment on that first Spring hike of the year, or for relaxing on a porch swing on a crisp evening during Fall. Maybe it is Carly’s banjo that paints such vivid scenes for me, although with a supporting cast of slide guitar, accordion and strings across the album, the options for interpretation are not finite. All ten tracks demonstrate a strong Americana flair, yet see Carly hopping across the loosely defined genre with ease, satisfying the senses with some folk-rock one moment, some alt-country the next, and some bluesy guitar-banjo duels thrown in for good measure too. And did I mention those vocals? Carly carries a full range of emotions in her voice, being as sentimental as you need her to be with those slower pieces, but ready to rock with the best of them when the tempo is notched up several turns on the dial.
As her primary instrument, the banjo is introduced from the offset in “Brightest Time Of Year.” Paired perfectly with some amazing strings, and a flirtation with some pedal steel, this track not only sets the tone, but establishes a sound that remains at the core of this album. A pace that is revisited during both “Comet” and “Something Lost;” the latter based around a moving banjo rhythm, only accompanied by those strings once Carly launches into the chorus (cue the goosebumps here). And lest we forget those vocals. With a voice so perfectly suited for roots-Americana music, for me, Carly draws comparisons to the bluesy side of Alannah Myles and the folk-rock style (and passion) of Brandi Carlile. I would also suggest hints of Stevie Nicks too, especially evident during the Fleetwood Mac flavored “Too Bright.”
With each spin of “Sunlight Remembers,” the distinct opening bass and guitar riffs are almost identical to those found in the Justin Rutledge hit, “The Great Ascension.” That is as far as any similarities go, however, as we find Carly temporarily foregoing the banjo for some blues-Americana. “I won’t ask you if you need me / All I want is to see myself in your eyes / One more time before you go,” is a chorus delivered with incredible passion (a staple for any blues sound). This is one of my favorite tracks on the album, especially when heading into the bridge, with Carly raising the intensity of those vocals above the rousing slide guitar, delivering the lines, “Do you ever feel like an actor? / Do you ever feel the soundtrack, when you’re driving alone?”
Looking for more of that blues-inspired music, but with the addition of the banjo? Skip to “Tiger’s Eye” to find Carly flaunting her rocking edge here. Stick around for the blues guitar that interrupts the instrumental break to duel with that banjo, before both yield once more to Carly’s vibrant and passionate lyrics. And for those swayed by my reference to alt-country earlier, “Dreaming Of You” is the track that you should seek out. With plenty of low end twang, this is alt-county as it should be, complete with a drum beat that can be interpreted as a trotting horse out on the range; one that is ready to hightail into a full gallop when the guitar intensifies down the stretch.
I am always drawn to a song in which the vocals dominate, and especially one that reinforces my earlier comparisons to her contemporaries. “Like Coyotes” quickly became a firm favorite of mine for such reasons. Whilst distinctly Americana focused in nature, the moody guitars lean a little towards indie-rock territory; yet the power of Carly’s voice is what keeps my finger reaching for the repeat button here. Delivering the lines, “Someday I’ll be running like the coyotes / Someday I’ll be running like the wolves / Wherever water guides me I will follow / Someday we’ll be free enough to grow,” Carly not only reminds me so much of Brandi Carlile, but also continues to construct those images of the great outdoors into my mind. Per her official bio, “Comet is proof again that Carly Dow is sketching the human condition in song and claiming her own space on the musical landscape in the process.”
Strongly recommended listening – “Bring a compass, Carly will take you places.”