Every night, when I was a little kid, my dad would stand in the doorway of my room, his silhouette framed by the far hall light, and sing a lullaby. Though the song choice rarely varied – something about buckaroos and lone dogies, and sweet graceful breezes swaying across a wide-open prairie grassland, none of which he had ever actually seen – his song, whispered in a trembling, quiet baritone, echoed against the walls into the night. And in those precious moments, drifting ever so slowly into the deep, dark mystery of sleep, I knew when the morning sun spilled through my window, I would awaken into a world beaming with love.
It would be unfair of me to offer more than conjecture, that with her new solo album, “Everything at the Same Time,” Caroline Marie Brooks is mining those same tender and riveting memories of times past, filled also with the wonder of what might lie ahead. Every song is like a fading water colour print, etched with living love and holding still. Moments pass so quickly that even with the cleverest slight of hand, none can hold the light – the being, of time we share with family and loved ones. But in her own special way, Brooks has found in melody and word, the poetry that conveys such feelings.
Caroline Marie Brooks is probably best known as part of the Good Lovelies, a trio of songwriters and harmonists much loved in the Canadian touring scene. It comes as no surprise that she has developed into a highly skilled songwriter in her own right, but what does surprise and delight, is that her firm grasp of nuanced, detailed and evocative story telling should be so compelling. The ten tracks she wrote, of the eleven recorded for this album, are entrancing. With her soft voice accompanied by the wooden warmth of her aged Martin guitar, Brooks caresses you with imagery that seems at once delicately intimate, but somehow overwhelmingly universal. In fact, many of these tales thematically trace the balance needed to hold both the one and the other at the same time. Here and now hangs so fragilely on the thread of past and gone.
The sequence of tunes on the album may be designed to propose a journey of sorts, but it hardly matters because once touched by their magic you will dwell on each, listening carefully for the treasures they conceal. That Brooks was able to pen these powerful compositions is in itself a creative mystery, but that she was able to collaborate with producer Jim Bryson, who has taken these careful gems and polished them into a stunning soundscape, surrounding the telling of each story with charm and wit, is extraordinary. This album is clearly a labour of love. The assembled team of family and musical friends has crafted a touching and heartfelt set of songs, surely meant to be heard when one needs reassurance as to meaning, beauty and purpose of life.
I won’t spoil the pleasure of discovery by detailing all of the songs on “Everything at the Same Time,” but three must be mentioned, only because they lingered in my thoughts so long after hearing. Before delving into pieces individually, there are three elements in the production of this album that warrant closer attention. The acoustic guitar sound on this record is stunning, and for a singer-songwriter, to have that sound in your ear must have been a guiding beacon to poise lyric and vocal upon. However, that Bryson managed to record and master this sound must be celebrated. Secondly, the choice of background vocalists for several of the tracks is a masterstroke of genius. Complementary, and yet infusing the choruses with such emotional depth, an array of family members lift the harmonies to astounding heights, with Caroline joined by her mother, Joy Brooks, sister, Katherine McKenzie, and brother, Emerson Brooks to name but a few. Thirdly, the drumming, percussion and sound sampling throughout lends a characteristic ingredient to these songs that seems otherworldly. Of course, this is orchestrated through the inventive production from Bryson, as a musician and producer, and his team of fellow players.
“Lights Go Down” is a poignantly elegant exchange between love and beloved. It makes no difference to whomever these lyrics may be directed, for immediately the connection is made and shared. Backed by simple piano and guitar, two voices merge: “Finally I’m just with you / And we both let go of the world around / In the moments when the lights go down.” Instinctively and without hesitation we know the inner meaning.
“Tomorrow” essentially closes the album, followed by a short humorous coda. Bryson wisely allows the singer, and her guitar alone, to tell the tale with gentle strums and a soaring single voice. Somehow, Brooks signals that more will come. Insightfully she colours just between lines for the listener to see the person who inhabits this creative world: “My mother taught me / To do my laundry / I was twelve and thought it cruel / Now I see her / In the mirror/ Making ends meet with no approval / I can do better tomorrow / I can do better tomorrow.”
“To the Waves” is one of the more exquisite standout tracks on this lovely recording. Stirring and mysterious, drenched in shadowy lyricism and pulsing with urgency, it takes you deep into the heart of love, holding on and letting go. Bryson and band swirl around the edges softly until the chorus, where the song breaks out into a joyous dance of renewal, hope and faith: “Moonlight lives so close to dark / I look to see if you’re still with me / I will not go, I will not leave / I‘ll stay here as long as I need to / Moonlight lives so close to dark / I look to see if you’re still with me / Let’s go down to the waves / Let the water take us out and back again / Let’s let go of the ways / That we’ve been led astray.”
“Everything at the Same Time” is aptly titled for this collection of wonderful feelings in song and a powerful introduction to Caroline Marie Brooks. At the end of the guitar instrumental, “Song for Fred,” in which Caroline accompanies her father’s classical guitar, I swear there is this little sigh that expresses both gratitude and awe. Everything that needs to be said is summed up in that simple acknowledgement. This is a beautiful memorable album. Go listen for yourself. Recorded and co-produced with Jim Bryson at Fixed Hinge Studio, and featuring an impressive lineup of skilled musicians, “Everything at the Same Time” is available today on CD, vinyl and all digital platforms.
Photo Credit: Jen Squires