Review: Terra Spencer, “Chasing Rabbits”

Terra Spencer - Chasing Rabbits

Every summer, when I was so much younger, my father would pack the kids into the back seat of an old Chevy, and head off to Windsor, Nova Scotia.  “Off we go, into the wild blue yonder,” he’d sing, as we set out.  Like any homesick son, he would push late into the night, sometimes singing, sometimes cursing the confounding traffic jams of Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City, every mile inching us closer and closer.  By the time we finally passed names like Ellershouse and Newport Station, my parents would finally start to relax, as if by some magic elixir.  We’d wearily unload the luggage, under lamp light, as midnight’s stars danced around on the Avon River, with sisters and brothers and grandparents all crowding round, jabbering like song birds long into the early hours of dawn.  Though this was not the place of my birth, it felt somehow like home, and throughout my life, these memories, forever in my heart, will always feel somehow, somewhere, like home.

In her song, “Feels like Home,” from this extraordinary second album “Chasing Rabbits,” Terra Spencer gives these special feelings wings, as mysterious and loving as a long drive through dark, unseen landscapes: “I will only be home when I’m standing with you /… Home / Home / Somewhere that feels like home.”  The incantation that ends this beautiful piece leaves you breathless.  Arriving, as it does, almost at the end of a record that has already given so many joyful and reflective moments, “Feels like Home” finds you wanting to bask, if only a moment longer, in the light and sincerity of these exemplary compositions.

Terra Spencer established herself as a talented storyteller and writer with her 2019 debut, “Other People’s Lives.”  Following wisely in these footsteps, Terra takes us further into character driven stories about places and people that leave a trace of something behind in the aftermath.  From the opening tune, “Melt,” to the final track, “Saigon,” Spencer delves into the heartbreaks that echo in memory and reverberates through time.  Carefully crafting a consistent narrative that moves seamlessly throughout the album, Spencer slowly reveals her chosen themes of longing, loss, awakening, pondering on the significance of meeting and parting.  “Every step on the staircase had a secret to keep,” she intones on the recent single “Lunenburg Moon,” featuring popular trad-folk duo, The Bombadils.  Like every good writer, Terra uses the imagery and details of the surroundings to draw us in, make us comfortable, play with our imaginary vision of the time and place within which each of these stories unfolds.

Using the Canadian winter as a backdrop on which to project her characters, Spencer fills the screen with the feelings such a setting evokes – snow falling wet through the streetlight, windows decorated for Christmas, snowflakes melting on flushed faces – all as the lonely winter lumbers on.  Yet none of these tracks are mired in sadness or sorrow, instead a slight melancholy hovers over characters moving gracefully with steadfast resolve.  As much as these tunes seem reflective, they point toward redemption and possibly an awareness that will lead to new outcomes.

Some of the inhabitants of these winter tales are startling and surprising – a dying coyote surrounded by her cubs, Manitoba maples torn by storm winds, Canadian geese learning to fly, Cleo the puppy always running away.  We are never sure, of course, if Spencer means for us to revel in the fiction or the metaphor, but we are assured that she means us to take the details seriously and let the magic of her work wash over us again and again.

Produced by Terra Spencer, recorded and engineered by Lil Thomas at Sonic Temple in Halifax, NS, every aspect of the music and the writing are designed to impact the ear and the emotions.  While each of the ten tracks are deeply captivating and moving, “In the City” sums up the scope and ambitions of this collection, with an almost cinematic soundscape accompanying a memoir of a love found and lost, secrets kept and ‘suspense, drama, and horror.’  Spencer has created a marvelous musical journey that is bound to delight.  One meant to be shared, even though one might want to keep it all to oneself, for all its poetry, grace and beauty.

My grandfather owned a restaurant in Windsor that backed on to the Avon River, which has long since been dammed up. But back in those long-ago days, we could watch the river turn, as the Fundy tides pulled – with a mystical force – the river deep into the sea.  It is fitting that Terra Spencer, who grew up so close to these tides, should create such wondrous and spellbinding music.  “Chasing Rabbits” is available today – learn more at www.terraspencer.ca

Douglas McLean fell in love with music at a very early age and has worked as a musician and songwriter since his early teens. He has a deep love for the written word and has spent his life in pursuit of language as a means to convey what Van Morrison once called “the inarticulate speech of the heart”. He lives deep in the Almaguin Highlands with his wife and their dog. Douglas is active in local radio, recording, producing and writing, in and around Huntsville, Ontario.

His website is:
http://www.douglasmcleanmusic.com

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