Thursday, 17 July 2014

Amanda Rheaume - Keep a Fire Self Released

One of the key events each year for fans of Canadian folk and roots music is to check out the nominees for the prestigious Juno awards in the relevant traditional category. In recent years this has become more relevant for us in the UK with so many artists visiting our shores to share their delightful music. To this list we can now add the name of Amanda Rheaume who, despite not being ultimately successful with her Juno nominated album, is about to undergo a period of promotion in the UK. The acclaimed album KEEP A FIRE is set for a formal release over here on 18 August around the same time that she undertakes an inaugural tour. It doesn’t take long to understand the merits of this record which succeeds in blending informed storytelling with a sophisticated sound merging the very best of folk, pop and rock.

Based in the nation’s capital Ottawa, Amanda’s music takes you on a Trans Canadian journey through the stories, tales and experiences of her family heritage which includes a line back to the Metis people, an aboriginal mix of European and First Nation. The simplicity and clarity of her work engages the listener from start to finish with a multitude of strong choruses and a concise approach which stays on message. The 10 tracks shift in style and mood but always retain a glow of positivity. This is no more evident than the optimistic opener ‘Strongest Heart’ with its simple repeated sentiment and pop overtures. In a similar vein the slightly soulful ‘Home on the Road’ closes the album by paying homage to her perceived comforts of constant touring in a style not too dissimilar to Mary Chapin Carpenter.

Photo by Sean Sisk
The core of the record revolves around Amanda’s heritage with possibly the standout track being ‘So Much to Gain’. With a chorus surely custom made for audience participation, the song recounts her ancestors being forced to pack their bags and move north in pursuit of a living. Amanda addresses the issue of mixed race acceptance, once more through the experiences of distant relatives in ‘Keep a Fire in the Rain’. The stories continue to unfurl in true folk tradition with the foot stomping heavy beat and fiddle infused ‘Not This Time’, recounting a journey that was special by not succumbing to inclement weather as in many nautical tales. The toe tapping roots style delivery surfaces again on ‘AGB Bannatyne’ a tribute to a relative credited with being a pioneering influence in the early days of Winnipeg Manitoba.

From time to time the album replicates that of a rock structure with key ballads interspersing more upbeat numbers as evidenced in the moving ‘Write You a Letter’. The pride radiating from Amanda’s writing is perfectly captured in ‘Passed down the Line’ where the importance of linear tradition is championed in a thought provoking way injected with a country feel.  ‘Ancient Rime’ is a track bestowed with a folk dressing while ‘You Walk Beside Me’ is far more conducive with a sound that could permeate the adult contemporary mainstream market.

Right beside Amanda throughout the entirety of the record making process has been John McDonald and the duo have enjoyed the benefit of full band input with mandolin and fiddle periodically adding the roots sound amongst the waves of modern electric guitar. This highly accessible and enjoyable album is further proof that we are in the midst of a cherished period of exported Canadian folk and roots music. KEEP A FIRE is Amanda Rheaume’s prized possession and it is a privilege that it’s being shared with a UK audience.

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