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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Review: Cara Luft - The Light Fantastic

Cara Luft - The Light Fantastic
2007, Black Hen Music

Winnipeg’s Cara Luft is a musical tour-de-force that you might never have heard of if you live outside of Canada. An integral part of folk trio The Wailin’ Jennys, Luft chose to follow her own path in 2005 after three years, two albums and one Juno Award for Best Roots album. Nicknamed “Jenny Van Halen” for her raucous guitar style, Luft is as accomplished with an axe as she is behind the microphone. Her album, The Light Fantastic, is a wonderful mix of the spiritual and the mundane, the certain and the in-between. Produced by Neil Osborne (54-40), The Light Fantastic features multi-instrumentalist Hugh McMillan (Spirit Of The West, James Keelaghan), Richard Moody (The Bills) and Christian Dugas. It a rare gem in popular music; a spending musical experience with outstanding storytelling.

Cara Luft shows an ability to capture moments and people in song that is uncanny. Whether her subjects are real or imagined, or even herself, Luft opens a window in each song on a person, place or time that is so believable you can almost touch them. Her voice is perfectly suited to this style of country/Americana; a warm alto with a bit of small-town country sass. The Light Fantastic opens with There's A Train, a song about escaping a relationship that's an emotional tempest, even if it means leaving home. Luft has a subtle power in his voice and is deft at using it to accentuate the emotions the protagonist feels here. This leads into No Friend Of Mine; with a lyrical economy that packs a punch, Luft tells someone who's no good for her to get lost. Turning the tables, Talk For A While is inspired by a bit of non-committal vulnerability; it's an incredibly human emotion in song, caught perfectly like a photograph set to music.

From a pure musical standpoint, Black Water Side is one of the more memorable moments on the album, with a wonderful arrangement that captures motion and movement within the notes and rhythms of the song. Luft's version of Lord Roslyn's Daughter may have officially transplanted the Great Big Sea rendition as my favorite version of this traditional tune. Luft delivers a stirring vocal performance, blending with unforgettable harmony vocals that are full of urgency you can almost reach out and grab. For all of this, however, Give It Up is by far my favorite song on the disc. It's a statement of self-worth from a woman who knows who she is and what she wants. It's probably one of the best takes on this subject since R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

No Strength takes a deep angst, partners it with a wonderful hook and some amazing rhythmic guitar playing and turns into a highly memorable song. Wilcox explores the utter surprise and wonderment of a person taken out of their normal element and caught on the Canadian Prairies for a time, while Jerusalem addresses the need for an inner spiritual or philosophical life. It's an interesting tune that uses Jerusalem as an allegory for this spiritual destination, and comes off sounding like a classic Indigo Girls tune. Settle For Grey is a subject most artists touch on at some point in their career, the loss of clear black and white in choices that seems to occur over a lifetime. It's a moralist message that's decidedly amoral, and an intriguing epilogue for Luft.

Luft is an extremely talented songwriter, encapsulating person, time and place with the skill and temerity of Randy Newman. Vocally she's up there with the best, and the musical arrangements here are anything but typical. Luft sounds like she's still challenging herself on each song, and enjoying it in the process. The Light Fantastic is a terrific listen. Luft is a master songwriter and performer. You don't want to be without this disc.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Cara Luft at or You can purchase a copy of The Light Fantastic at

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