This is the first record Toronto artist Jennifer Castle has put out under her own name. Previously heard with artists such as Fucked Up, The Constantines, Doug Paisley and Elliott Brood, she has also released two solo albums – confusingly – under the name Castlemusic. 2008’s You Can’t Take Anyone sounded on the surface like a folk album, with guitar arrangements that played with folk form but ultimately allowed her ethereal voice to shine through in a more or less traditional way.
Castlemusic the album is an altogether more sonically complex affair. Recorded with partner Dave Clarke and producer Jeff McMurrich, the album is full of fuzzy electric guitars, sounding like a mixture of Velvet Underground and a classic ’60’s folk sound: check out ‘Powers’ with its mixture of fuzz guitar and flute used to bring out a description of cosmic forces in nature. ‘Neverride’, the second track, sounds like a fuzzy old recording of ’60s Canadian folk singer Bonnie Dobson – her voice has a similar quality and the guitar the tinny distant twang of old records.
The soundscape of this record really does add something. From the languorous opening of ‘Summer’ the basic folk framework is rendered jazz-like and psychedelic by the dreamlike arrangements. ‘Way of the Crow’, which vocally references Dolly Parton, is a celebration of nature that takes on an oddly twisted country feel, its country rhythm oddly inverted and the sound menacing – even the slide guitar isn’t the normal comfortable accompaniment of regular country vocabulary. The ingredients of country are there but mixed into something different.
‘Misguided’ takes the spooky folk to new heights, with scary sounding pipe organ closely providing a platform for vocals that are nearly chanted – the chorus, “I try to hold on”, taking on an air of quiet desperation.
Three central songs of the album are ‘You Don’t Have to Be’, ‘Remembering’ and ‘Poor as Him’ . The first is an ironic dealing with what sounds to be a younger man – a callow nu-folk toy boy? – telling him he doesn’t have to live the part that she lives all too deeply. “You don’t have to sing/All the kinds of freedom/To understand the kind you’re never going to be” she says, crushingly, telling him that after all this time he doesn’t fit in to the folk singer’s world, ending with the command “honey don’t be long with my drink…”. It’s a strummed country style song, with piano and echo-ey acoustic guitar and a bitter- sweet vocal line.
‘Remembering’, sung to a simple piano accompaniment, seems at first like a sickly rather cutesy account of a nice day picking sage, tying lavender, and giving herself a tattoo. But then it becomes clear – getting through the day is all about getting over, and remembering, a lost lover . The gentle revelation is quietly devastating.
‘Poor as Him’ is an uptempo, country-tinged reverb guitar-heavy song about the depth of her love for poor “him” – poor “him” who loves her, hence the need for him to be pitied. But she loves “him” too, and this song celebrates that love and what she’ll do for him even as the world ends.
Then surprisingly the album ends with a straight, acoustic guitar picked instrumental, ‘The Friend’ , with lovely guitar choruses, that is pure timeless folk music.
This is a record that sucks you in and surprises in the way it plays with folk and country, twists your expectations sonically and turns them into something more otherworldly and even psychedelic with the sound and lyrics. From the everyday to the cosmic – this piece of folk/country/trance is well worth exploring.