Published Oct 17, 2014In 2012, in quick succession, Jenn Grant lost her mother to breast cancer, went on a trip to Spain and moved into a new home in Lake Echo, 25 minutes east of Halifax, with her husband, producer/multi-instrumentalist Daniel Ledwell. All of this informed Grant's warmly textured fifth album, Compostela ("field of stars"), written in a trailer parked on the couple's property, on a steady diet of Damien Jurado, Father John Misty and Rodriguez. (There's a shout-out to the recently rediscovered Detroit folkie on "Wild Animal" when Grant sings, "I sang to Sugar Man while his record played.")
Grant's aim was to make a psychedelic folk album; luckily, the only overtly psych tune on the record is "Canadian Maple Grove." Throughout, the rest of the psych-folk experiments subtly add colour. In fact, Compostela, Grant's third album with Ledwell, may well be her most cohesive to date, despite the much-touted inclusion of a number of guest backup singers, including Doug Paisley, Sarah Harmer, Rachel Sermanni, Rose Cousins, frequent collaborator Buck 65 and an audience at the Black Sheep Inn.
Perhaps it's because the underpinnings of the songs are so strong and simple: Grant's classical guitar, coupled with Ledwell's organ, Rhodes, synths and guitars, Tavo Diez di Bonilla on bass and Michael Brushey behind the kit provide the perfect bedrock. Grant's usual drummer, Michael Belyea, was away for most of the sessions, but his congas and percussion, added later, contribute greatly to the album's cradling sense of warmth and consistency.
Grant's voice — which has always been lovely — has found new depth in these mellow, soulful songs. Her mother's presence is felt on "Barcelona," with Ron Sexsmith's and Don Kerr's backup vocals perfectly suited to the song's healing nostalgia, and on "Bring Me A Rose," with Grant's brother Daniel on charango, Ellen Gibling on harp, Justin Rutledge on backup vocals, and Ledwell on pedal steel. "When I grow up," Grant sings, "I want to be a picture of my mother holding onto me." (Outside)