Newfoundland-based folk trio the Once (Geraldine Hollett, Andrew Dale and Phil Churchill) hit all the right notes with their Nettwerk debut. Produced by John Critchley (Amelia Curran, Dan Mangan, Elliott Brood), Departures, their third album, is a gorgeous collection of harmony-driven acoustic folk.
Comparisons to traditional East Coast folk and to the practitioners of textured, crescendo-driven indie-folk pop apply in equal measure. But the Once also offer a gentler, more nuanced touch. There's emotion and longing here, and plaintive strings to go along with it, but not the usual sense of despair and desperation to weigh it all down. The record may be a montage of tracks about leaving, but it reads and sounds like an ode to new beginnings.
Hollett's mighty voice captivates, and she's rightly been compared to some of America's finest singers (Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch). Dale and Churchill dazzle too, both vocally and on strings. Together, and with the help of the incredible roster of musicians they've assembled, their music takes on a sentient quality that elevates it above any singular genre or place of origin.
There's some superb violin and viola work here by Anne Lindsey and Johann Lotter, while the brilliant Miranda Mulholland (Great Lake Swimmers, Belle Starr) appears on two of the record's very best tracks. Beautiful in their restraint, "We Are All Running" and "Into Your Life" confirm why simple, elegant songwriting and instrumentation remain the most compelling way to articulate truisms.
The same goes for "You Will Lead, I Will Follow" and "All the Hours," which add a sense of urgency and some familiar indie-pop gestures, while "Fool For You" is a wonderful Celtic-country mix. A horn section, Kevin Fox on cello, and Brad Kilpatrick on drums also stand out.
On their previous records, the trio reworked songs by Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Queen and the Strawbs, and their upbeat version of the Elvis tune "Can't Help Falling in Love" works perfectly here, as does the a cappella take on Ron Hynes' "Sonny's Dream."
The trio has been in steady-build mode: they have a Juno nomination and three Canadian Folk Music Awards under their belt; they're currently on a worldwide tour with label-mate Mike Rosenberg, the superb UK singer-songwriter also known as Passenger. They belong on the festival stage with the best of them, and on the strength of Departures, it's safe to say they'll be headlining sooner than later. This is a beautiful record. (Nettwerk)