Review: The Small Glories, “Assiniboine & The Red”

Small Glories - Assiboine & The Red

We had the pleasure of catching a live show with The Small Glories here in PA earlier this year, and sampled our first taste of some new music from their upcoming sophomore full-length album.  Fast forward to just late July, and we caught the duo of Cara Luft and JD Edwards once more.  This time around, however, their brand new “Assiniboine & The Red” was officially launched into the world, and The Small Glories had no reservations in sharing these great new tunes again.

Hailing from Winnipeg, MB, it is still hard to believe that pure fate brought these two individuals together for what should have been a one-time collaboration.  And having found success with their 2016 “Wondrous Traveler” debut album that promptly followed, we were eager to get our hands on this latest from the moment that Cara and JD mentioned it during their PA visit(s).  As impressive as their 2016 release proved to be, it is evident that the vast number of miles driven together whilst touring, writing, touring, and writing some more, have contributed favorably to their experiences and tales found in “Assiniboine & The Red.”  With ten brand new compositions being offered, the combined musical talents of both Luft and Edwards is outstanding.  Where this duo really score extra points, though, is with the incredibly natural chemistry they have established during a relatively short time as musical partners.

I must confess, that whenever I sit down and tackle a new album review, quite often it is a fairly drawn out process.  I have to hear the album on repeat for a few days to really get a feel for the music, the direction, the messages, and then drawing my conclusions on what I feel needs to be shared.  Spinning this album just once, the connections with the music were already present.  Put it down to hearing most of these songs live over the last few months, but listening intensely to gather thoughts seemed like a breeze this time around.  Indeed, the familiarity of the music brings a synonymous sense of comfort, making it more like an old friend as opposed to a new acquaintance.  Just like being wrapped up in your favorite blanket, “Assiniboine & The Red” is that good friend whom it is always a pleasure to spend time with.

Always proud to display and share their Canadian heritage, The Small Glories offer many tracks to reflect the passion held towards their native land.  Opening with the slow and deeply moving “Alberta,” the first of two tunes co-written with acclaimed singer-songwriter James Keelaghan, Cara’s gentle banjo and voice pairs beautifully with JD’s lead.  The first of several tracks that reference Canadian provinces, the duo also pay homage to British Columbia with “Johnson Slide,” and their home province of Manitoba with the lively, semi-biographical “Winnipeg.”  Upbeat and informative, the duo share their love of Winnipeg, quashing the images of mediocrity and irrelevance held by many unfamiliar with the city.  “It’s Mr. Young and The Guess Who / It’s mosquitoes and canoes / It’s the harvest in the fields / It’s another record year / It’s the Jets winning gold / It’s always thirty five below / It’s the music and the vibe / It’s where the spirit comes alive,” is the bridge, sang proudly in unison, before yielding gracefully and respectfully to the native Metis cries and chants that draw the song and album to a close.

Both single releases that pre-dated the album are here; the charming “Oh My Love,” which is described by Cara as the happiest broken-hearted love song they’d ever written, and “Secondhand,” a tale of the misconception of being a travelling musician, and how secondhand accounts of their journeys can never be fully embraced by loved ones who remain at home.  Both “Sing” and “You Can’t Be High” offer incredibly upbeat sounds and messages, and are both coincidentally co-written with singer-songwriter Catherine MacLellan.  Ashley Condon is also credited as a co-writer on “Long Long Moon,” a slow, moving ballad based on a traditional Maritimes tales of a fisherman’s wife who walks to the shore every day, eternally hopeful that her presumed deceased husband will return home.

If I were to select one track that truly stands out on “Assiniboine & The Red,” “Pieces Of Me” would undoubtedly be my choice.  With some dominant vintage riffs courtesy of the electric guitar, and the truly haunting harmonies from both Luft and Edwards, this track perfectly represents the raw and passionate energy that the duo bring each and every time they step onto a stage.  It is easy to draw comparisons to Harrow Fair’s “Told A Lie To My Heart,” with JD’s guitar sharing many traits with Andrew Penner’s unique sound, and those same haunting vocals offered by he and Miranda Mulholland.  “Pieces Of Me” makes a great feature track, and one that is even more amazing when heard live.

“Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.” (Sir Cecil Beaton – as quoted in the album liner notes). This is a phenomenal release from The Small Glories. Cara and JD have really tapped into something special here!  Miss this one at your peril.  Miss this one, and I may be knocking on your door to make sure you don’t.

Martin Noakes

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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