Review: Shawna Caspi, “Hurricane Coming”

Shawna Caspi, “Hurricane Coming”

I feel like the worst kind of person most of the time / A big city bully when I’m stuck in line / With the postal clerk who types too slow / And I make a sign like I gotta go.”

I am a firm believer that anybody willing to articulate what their own imagination dictates to them can string together interesting song lyrics.  I also believe that those with a strong vocabulary and a flair for discovering their language have the tools to become naturally gifted poets.  I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve made references to an artist who has wowed me with great lyrics, or have crafted images in my mind from their poetic artistry, yet do not recall when encountering one who combined both elements with ease to create songs that are truly special.

Cue the perfectly timed arrival of “Hurricane Coming,” the latest album being released today by Toronto’s Shawna Caspi, and one where such elements are intertwined with seemingly little effort.  Indeed, in a world where language is forged as rushed texts and tweets, Shawna continues to take her time crafting lyrics that are both poetic AND meaningful, often pairing unusual rhymes with surprising turns of phrase: “I stick out like a shiny truck / At the last chance stop to fill ‘er up / I catch a kind word on a stranger’s ear / Closer than we first appeared / I come in peace / Not in fear / I’m not even from around here.

The lyrics referenced above appear in the song “Ghost Town,” one of the new album tracks in which Shawna takes a blank canvas and very quickly paints a vivid scene, itself forming part of a musical narrative that tells a much larger tale.  With “Hurricane Coming,” she reveals a collection of songs that lie close to the heart, set against a backdrop of cinematic landscapes – crafted by her talented team of musicians who bring these rich sonic worlds to life.  Per Shawna’s press release: A Story unravels – it begins with a breakdown, a vow to leave the past behind, then pauses for reflection, asks questions of trust, comfort and belonging, follows the search for strands of gold, to conversations with old flames, through the swell of confidence that comes in the course of healing, and ultimately, to the acceptance of love and moving forward.

This journey commences with “Wait Love,” Shawna’s recent single release co-written with guitarist and producer Joel Schwartz, and sets an early tone when revealing how the imprint of a tumultuous relationship can remain on the skin, the mind, and the heart.  Opening with a light, yet driving rock beat, there are hints of tender vulnerability in Shawna’s words, even as her voice glides effortlessly over the music: “Wait, love / Show me what you’re made of / Tell me that we tried it all / And came to this retreat / Say, love / Maybe what we gave up / Wasn’t ours to spin around / Wasn’t ours to keep.”  “The sound of a voice, even the mention of a name, can make us dizzy and set us off-balance,” explains Shawna. “Even when letting go is the right decision, we can remain haunted, with our memories, experiences, and decisions burned into our bodies.”  Joined by the almost-country electric guitar cries, her voice grows more powerful as the tension builds: “Slow down / Here’s what I know now / If we really came to do our best / Then I can’t be second-guessing / If you go now / Go with everything I’m missing / I won’t pull you in / No, I won’t call again.” 

Shawna Caspi

Recorded at The Canterbury Music Company in Toronto, and mixed by James Bunton (David Myles, Donovan Woods) at Union Sound Co., with mastering by Sage Kim (Lemon Bucket Orkestra) at Lacquer Channel Mastering, “Hurricane Coming” offers not only this wonderful sonically woven tale, but also proves to be a well-polished and well-rounded album.  Surrounding herself with a top-notch supporting cast, notably Schwartz (acoustic & electric guitars/banjo/mandolin/Rhodes organ), Devon Henderson (bass), Mark Mariash (drums/percussion), along with Scott Galloway (piano/organ) and both Sarah Hiltz & Peter Stone (backing vocals), Shawna demonstrates that inconveniences, like say, a global pandemic, may momentarily hinder, but ultimately will not stop her creative wheels from spinning.

Returning to my opening pitch, it is pretty much impossible to ignore how Shawna weaves artistic tapestries to create such poetic tales through her lyrics.  This is certainly evident from some of her slower compositions, for example, “Hope Lives” (complete with lovely soft piano keys to start): “Hope lives / With a letter in the mail / The porch light glow / Where all else fails / Hope will drive you home / Hope lives in the firewood and the flame / One dry match / The campsite in the rain / Hope will guide you back.”  “Echo” is another perfect example, this coincidentally being the track from where the album title originates: “You were my favourite summer / My empire orchard row / We heard the hum of the hurricane coming / And had an acre to go / You were the cloud in the cover / I was the rue in the rain / We had enough over which one of us / Was the weather or the vane.”  And other times, it doesn’t need to be a full verse, but simply the timely placement of a recurring theme, as discovered within “One More Chance”: “I’m a straight shooter with a broken arm… / I’m a good luck charm on a broken wrist… / I’m a scotch on the rocks to a broken tooth… / Please give me one more chance.

I am delighted to see “Celebrate” tucked away towards the end of the album – representing that swell of confidence as we had the pleasure of hearing Shawna road-test this tune at a show back in the summer of 2019.  “Looking to the light / When the winter’s been too long / The answer that you find / When the trouble’s gone / The kind of love / That undoes any doubt / The weight that sheds / When you finally figure it out.”  “When I was in university, I took a class in ‘music therapy’ as part of my university degree,” she shared prior to that performance. “And I did not become a music therapist, but what I really am amazed by is that they have to be able to celebrate these really small victories everyday. There are all these things that we miss [because] we’re so busy.”  “Choosing to forgive / In the face of a fight / The shy girl calling up her crush / On a Saturday night / Here’s to all the quiet voices / Sounding for the very first time / Here’s to all the early risers / Standing at the front of the line.

“Hold The Light” not only draws this adventure with Shawna Caspi to a close, but also provides the Hollywood style happy ending where love finally seeks to conquer all.  “No reckoning day / To settle the score / Where every mistake / Feeds a firing line / You can be safe / You can have more / Where love doesn’t measure / And it won’t run dry.”  The instrumentation hits every right note at the right time, and Joel’s potent electric guitar solo adds the perfect splash of intensity to lead into Shawna’s final verse and chorus.  And yes, those vocals are a little more dominant too, tinged with a little heartfelt happiness, a little melancholy in the delivery that draws similarities to contemporaries such as Catherine MacLellan and Suzie Ungerleider.  “I have been there too / And I know the other side / I can take you through / If you hold the light / Hold the light.”

But wait, there’s more!  Okay, this is not a late-night cable TV infomercial, but with this album, you really do get some exclusive extras.  In addition to the music, Shawna has also created some original abstract artwork inspired by each track on the album.  Per her press release: Known for her realistic depictions of scenic landscapes, these paintings are a stylistic departure from her work as a visual artist.  Much like the songwriting process that led to “Hurricane Coming,” these paintings combine the contraction of form and structure with the freedom of intuition and experimentation.   

Learn more about this stunning new album and artwork at: www.shawnacaspi.com

Photo Credit: Roni Hoffman

The British guy that crossed the ocean and crash landed in central Pennsylvania (to quote Greg Keelor, “And I wonder what am I doing here?”). As the youngest of four siblings, exposure to music from a very early age nurtured my passion and appreciation for many musical genres. Continuing to discover some amazingly diverse and talented musicians based in Canada, I gravitate to live music experiences and remain devoted to spreading the word about such a vibrant music scene.

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