The Small Glories
Assiniboine & The Red
(Red House Records)
3.5 out of 5 stars
As wondrous as the sound of a single human voice can be, when two voices meant to merge find each other, their power somehow multiplies. On Assiniboine & The Red, the Small Glories’ Cara Luft and JD Edwards generate so much energy together, they could almost form a hurricane — though blizzard might be a more apt metaphor for this Canadian duo.
Singer and banjo player Luft, of Wailin’ Jennys fame, and singer/guitarist Edwards, who also fronts the JD Edwards Band, collaborate with several esteemed co-writers on these 10 tracks, adhering mostly to the folk traditions Luft’s Pete Seeger-influenced parents passed down. “Sing” and “Don’t Back Down” are motivational protest songs. The former’s chorus goes, “Sing for the suffering working slaves/ Cast into debt they can never repay/ Sing for their oppressors who still believe/ It’s either us or them, never harmony.”
They do take a couple of notable detours. The haunting “Pieces Of Me” has the feel of a showdown in a stark western town; you can almost hear the tumbleweeds blow by in its tremoloed guitar. Luft’s lilting vocals on the midtempo melody “You Can’t Be High” carry such pop sweetness, it’s as if a different band is doing it. It’s a pleasant diversion on an album that also offers dramatic tales of sacrificed lives and lost ways of life (“Long Long Moon,” “Johnson Slide”), as well as love letters to their beloved Canadian provinces in “Alberta” and “Winnipeg” (where the rivers of album’s title meet).
That tune, the album’s finale, is an exuberant toast to and potential tourism anthem for a place where English, French and Metis cultures merge, and the sun’s emergence is cause for celebration. Citing landmarks, cultural totems and natural wonders, it also celebrates “the music and the vibe/ Where our spirits come alive,” in three languages, including the First Nations chant that provides a strong, moving finish.