One of the joys of being actively involved in championing country, roots, folk and Americana music is being exposed to a continual stream of high quality new Canadian material in search of UK promotion. Nationally acclaimed Ottawa based singer-songwriter Amanda Rheaume is one such artist who, after relative success in her homeland, is seeking further expansion into European markets. On the back of increased press for her most recent Juno nominated album KEEP A FIRE, and a formal UK release of the record, Amanda has undertaken an inaugural visit across the Atlantic to share her talents in a series of developmental shows. On the evidence of her assured performance at Nottingham’s intimate Guitar Bar venue, it shouldn’t be too long before the term ‘developmental’ is dropped and the wider music community takes note.
Amanda appreciates the value of enhancing a live show and for this tour has enlisted the services of two fine Canadian musicians. Fraser Holmes, a fellow Ottawa resident, played mandolin and electric guitar on Amanda’s recent record and switched effortlessly between the two sounds during the show which took the format of a pair of sets with the second being slightly longer. MJ Dandeneau from Winnipeg Manitoba has an incredible CV of playing bass with a who’s who of contemporary Canadian folk and roots artists with Amanda now joining many who have visited the UK. Intermittently, MJ played her electric bass guitar with a bow and together with Fraser provided the perfect setting for Amanda to showcase live her excellent array of songs.
Both MJ and Amanda share Metis heritage, a mix between European and First Canadian Nation, and their intense pride became a theme of the show culminating in the song ‘Keep a Fire in the Rain’ with its traditional language segment. This was one of eight songs extracted from the latest record for the set with the superb tracks ‘Passed Down the Line’, ‘AGB Bannatyne’ and ‘Not This Time’, all having traditional or historical sources and getting the informative insight treatment from Amanda in her between song banter. The appeal of these and so many other of Amanda’s songs is their ear pleasing aurora without selling out to popular whims and keeping within the tight defined structure of authentic roots music.
Amanda did play it safe with her choice of three covers for the set which is understandable when taking new original music thousands of miles from home. Neil Young’s ‘Heart of Gold’, with Amanda on harmonica, and Old Crow Medicine Show’s, fast becoming a standard, ‘Wagon Wheel’, complete with invited audience choral accompaniment, are far from radical selections but offered a bout of familiarity. During the encore Amanda also played an interesting version of Bruce Cockburn’s ‘Lovers in a Dangerous Time’ with especially the guitar execution of Fraser giving the song a country rock feel.
Apart from the airing of a new song ‘Steal it Back’ suggesting that the time for Amanda to move on from KEEP A FIRE is imminent, the remainder of the set saw her delve a little further into the back catalogue. There were four songs from 2011’s LIGHT OF ANOTHER DAY and the closing number ‘All That You Need’ stretched even deeper into the recording vaults. This finale was the sole song that Amanda played totally solo with Fraser and MJ stepping aside to allow her to emotionally deliver a song written about appreciating what you have and inspired by playing to Canadian military personnel in Afghanistan. It was the fitting end to an evening full of invention, finesse and truly enjoyable music.
It has been stated here on many occasions that the influx of Canadian and American talent complements the home grown folk/roots/country/Americana scene well and serves only to raise standards. Amanda Rheaume is a valuable addition to the growing list of artists exporting their craft and it would be delightful if this liaison continued to grow and blossom in the future.