Team GDW had the opportunity to see Great Lake Swimmers live in 2016, and two of the shows introduced us to Megan Bonnell, who took care of the backing vocals and harmonies in the absence of Miranda Mulholland, who could not join the tour on these occasions.
During their recent show in London, ON, Megan joined the band onstage for the majority of the set, and Great Lake Swimmers front man Tony Dekker was only too happy to spread the word that Megan had recently released a new album. Having the opportunity to chat with Megan after the show, we knew that the album would be a welcome addition to our collection very soon.
After finding “Magnolia” on our most recent visit to Toronto, I was eager to listen to this several times over the course of the weekly commute. Co-produced by GLS drummer Joshua Van Tassel, I will be the first to admit that I expected the album to be “the Megan that we’d seen with the Swimmers” – folk music with great harmony, which is exactly what we heard during the two concerts we’d attended.
As the album came alive, the opening tracks “Can’t Have You” and “Anna” met my pre-determined expectation level immediately. Was this to be an eleven-track album that would stick to such a predictable formula of traditional folk music? Once I was halfway through the third track “Golden Boy,” the answer was a resounding “No.”
With a more up-tempo intro, “Golden Boy” awakens the senses to a movement from traditional folk to a more alternative, indie sound. The opening verse allows Megan to demonstrate that she has much more to offer than a one-dimensional style. The listener accompanies Megan on a journey of questioning decisions of love and relationships. Indeed, the line “All that I wanted was some honesty, but you couldn’t give that to me” represents a recurring theme across the entire album of emotional disappointments and having to start over in love.
Progressing into “Family,” Megan once again raises the bar, shifting momentarily from her ‘folk’ comfort zone into a smooth jazz piece (à la an upscale coffee shop sound), with powerful piano and string arrangements that lure you in to her story. When she asks, “Will you hold my hand when I reach the end,” I am already drawing comparisons to both the style and sound of Norah Jones.
Megan continues to provide diverse offerings throughout the album, and appears more than confident in her musical experimentation. “You Are the One” has a delightful interplay between both acoustic and electric guitars, with a vocal build-up throughout the track. With “Chameleon,” the jazz-inspired intro leads quickly into an alternative, almost industrial sound that I felt compared well with the works of Leslie Feist. “Dynamite” proved to have the same effect, with a dominant piano once more that gave this a Regina Spektor kind of vibe, with industrial distortion grabbing your full attention as it bounces off the piano keys. If there is one track on this album that is so far removed from my initial perception of Megan Bonnell, “Dynamite” is the clear choice.
For me, the standout piece on this album is “The Wind”, with the (again) amazing piano intro and sole hi-hat. I searched all over the CD inlay to find who the amazing pianist is, only to learn that it is Megan herself who carries out these duties. Accustomed to seeing her standing with only a microphone and occasional tambourine during her Swimmers shows, it never occurred to me that she was a true, bona-fide musician in her own right. And what a wonderful melody she plays during “The Wind”; it is uplifting and a definite foot-tapper, and the perfect counter-punch to her vocal outpouring of pain and lost love.
As Megan reaches the final track “Out and Away,” her musical journey returns home, with a somber acoustic traditional folk piece to send her audience on their way. With her chorus “Out and away, I’ll find you, drifting away,” Megan leaves us to face her lost loves and broken relationships alone… At least, that is, until returning to the opening track to share the journey with her once more.