Almost five years ago, we were fortunate to stumble across Tragedy Ann performing in a workshop at the 2017 Home County Music and Art Festival. The chamber folk stylings of duo Liv Cazzola and Braden Phelan caught our attention immediately, and we’ve kept an eye on them ever since.
This spring, the pair has released their latest project, “Heirlooms,” three years after their previous full-length album, and it’s completely worth the wait. Recorded with an excellent supporting cast of musicians, the album delivers an outstanding collection of thoughtful, poignant songs.
The press release for the project states that the songs “call for deeper connection with each other and with the natural world.” As I’ve listened to the album over the last couple of weeks, I also hear a call to a deeper connection with ourselves – a greater understanding of ourselves in the context of the world around us, and a realization not only of the obstacles in life but of their purpose.
In the song “Perfect Strangers,” Phelan sings of people discovering what they love, being presented with challenges to pursuing those loves, and ultimately of finding new ways to be themselves even in the face of those challenges. “The Shield” also delves into the concept of barriers to the straightforward, this time in physical and geographic form: “When the one way round / is the long way round.” What we so often see as a hurdle can so frequently be the way we become more authentically ourselves.
One song in particular tears at my heart each time I hear it: “Velveteen,” a delicate tune inspired in part by Margery Williams’ Velveteen Rabbit. “Will you still love me / When my velvet’s gone?” Particularly at this stage in my own life (growing older, embracing – not always willingly – middle age), this is a staggeringly poignant question, and Cazzola and Phelan pose it beautifully.
“The Ghost of John McGowan” is the one song on the project that feels a bit misplaced, both thematically and stylistically. However, it’s such a compelling performance that I would have hated to miss out, and I hope I get the chance to hear it live one of these days. (Props in particular to bassist Peter Klaassen – his contribution on this track is stellar.)
The album closes with “I Hope This Finds You Well,” delivered a cappella with a supporting choir of friends. (As a side note, if Tragedy Ann ever decide to put out a completely a cappella project, I would be down for it, given this teaser.)
If you’re seeking deep, thoughtful chamber folk, this is absolutely the project for you. Highly recommended.
Photo credit: Nicolette Hoang