Wednesday, January 23, 2013


I love it when friends send me albums that I haven't heard about, and they turn out to be gems.  Not living in the centre of the universe (Toronto), I wasn't familiar with Dutra, although she's well-established and admired in that scene, I come to find out.  I'm a sucker for strong songwriters, and she hit  me with that particular sucker punch, a sneaky left to the heart.

Rule #1 in music criticism is don't quote the press release, and I'd venture half the reviews you'll ever read feature the authors training gamely to come up with their own words that re-write the same bio and descriptions offered up in the "one-sheets" that get mailed out with the albums.  Today, I say screw it, I'm not going to do any better than the praise offered up by Ron Sexsmith:  "A clear and unaffected voice and songs that are soulful, unpretentious and timeless."  Ya, well, Ron's good with words, ain't he?  He also has first-hand knowledge of Dutra's talents, having co-written one tune here, and singing close harmonies on that and another.  He's hit the nail on the head here, as Dutra's work certainly doesn't belong to any trend or decade.  Sometimes she's more straight-ahead country, others times she heads towards folk or singer-songwriter productions, but it all comes with direct, emotional lyrics that take you directly to the heart of the matter. 

Here's a good example, from Time Will Tell:  "One day I was born/One day I will die/My lover will make me smile/One day he will make me cry."  Stripped-down to the core, these words are simple and complete, the impact foolproof.  Makes these relationships seem darn scary, doesn't it?  Later she likens being in love an unknown as great as the biggest question of them all:  "Only time will tell if there's a heaven, if there's a hell/And what will come of me & you."

The album is full of excellent cameos, from harmony singers and instrumentalists.  Suzie Vinnick is perfect on the gospel number Mama Taught Me How To Pray, with Old Man Luedecke bringing the old-time banjo.  U.S. roots hero Kevin Welch  co-wrote Nowhere Left To Fall, and brings a Merle Haggard authenticity to the vocals.  Sexsmith delivers his unique harmonies, always finding a different, better note than the one most would choose.  Justin Rutledge sounds like he was born to sing with Dutra on his two numbers.  And behind it all is producer/multi-instrumentalist Les Cooper (Jill Barber, The Good Lovelies).  Sometimes he lets the country come to the fore; elsewhere he adds more to the mix, coating piano, bass, and more in echo, placing some instruments much higher in the blend than usual.  I applaud it all, this could have been a straight country album, and a very good one, but its variety and experimental side make it even more interesting.  For those who like an intimate experience with an album, a headphone discovery of layers of riches in repeat listens, and like me, a tiny tear here and there, Dutra's got the goods.

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