'Could Have Done Anything' Places Charlotte Cornfield Among Canada's Great Storytellers

BY Dylan BarnabePublished May 11, 2023

Once described by Rolling Stone as "Canada's best-kept secret," Charlotte Cornfield may struggle to hold onto that mercurial anonymity following Could Have Done Anything.  

The singer-songwriter's fifth album, which follows 2021's highly acclaimed Highs in the Minuses, is revelatory. Across nine tracks, Cornfield weaves a rich tapestry of quotidian moments — a drive in an old Subaru, a vinyl record to be played, a moonlight swim — with a gravitas that imbues the ordinary with the extraordinary.  

The Toronto native travelled to Hurley, New York, to work alongside producer Josh Kaufman, being an admirer of his previous work with Cassandra Jenkins, Anais Mitchell and his own band, Bonny Light Horseman. The two played every instrument on the album, with Cornfield lending not only her vocals but guitar, drums, percussion, piano, synth, etc. to the endeavour. Recorded in six days and engineered by D. James Goodwin (Kevin Morby, Whitney), the resulting album is breathtaking in both its musical simplicity and emotional complexity. Ambitious but not overzealous, sensitive but never saccharine. 

There is a strong sense of acceptance rooted throughout the album, a coming to terms with oneself no matter the disappointment, happiness, or intense longing tossed your way. Cornfield sings of this shift on album closer "Walking with Rachael" as she extols her gratitude of being: "Calmer than I was / Smarter than I was / Stronger than I was / Older than I was / Less angry than I was / Less anxious than I was / More grounded than I was / Happier than I was". Could Have Done Anything is a meditation on achieving an internal balancing of the scales, of achieving mindfulness in the present moment. Cornfield's quiet confidence shines bright: "For the first time I really don't feel alone / Or anything sad / Or anything profound," she sings on "Gentle Like the Drugs." She suggests that perhaps the happy ending we all seek isn't necessarily found in the profound, but in an understanding of life's gentle ebbs and flows. 

As a seasoned musician, Cornfield continues to keep pace with her contemporaries. Her lyrical chops and impressive musicality put her on par with the likes of Lucy Dacus, Jess Williamson and Katie Crutchfield, while her ability to firmly root her listeners in a specific time and place is one that abounds, whether it be on tour in Phoenix ("Gentle Like the Drugs") or seeing a concert at the Theatre Corona ("The Magnetic Fields"). She can interlace the life cycles of romance in all its intimacy, longing and loss, with a delicate touch befitting its fleeting joys and hard truths.

In the wake of Gordon Lightfoot's passing, there is undoubtedly a discussion to be had about the next generation of Canadian storytellers who might take up his mantle of quiet profundity. Cornfield continues to prove, as our resident diamond in the rough, that she is more than worthy of being included in the conversation. 
(Next Door)

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