According to a preview in The New Yorker magazine:
The twenty-nine-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter Basia Bulat plays the Autoharp, the piano, the violin, and a variety of other instruments, but she can make remarkable music without any of them. Bulat has a singular voice, with a confident yet vulnerable tone, and she sings with an impassioned yearning that suggests the vast wilderness of her homeland. She’s been nominated for a Juno Award and short-listed for the Polaris Music Prize, and her third album, Tall Tall Shadow, recently released, shows her maturing as a songwriter. Bulat is touring the States, and is at the Bowery Ballroom on Nov. 23, with backing musicians—not that she really needs them.
She also appeared at Eddie's Attic in Decatur, Georgia last night. But first, Nashville's Foreign Fields opened.
Foreign Fields are the duo of Eric Hillman and Brian Holl, originally from Wisconsin. They both play electric guitar and both sing and sing well, but the magic in their music is their almost telepathic harmonies and the soothing gentleness of their songs.
Comparisons to Bon Iver are inevitable, but one can also hear influences or at least similarities to bands as diverse as Grizzly Bear, Gem Club, The Album Leaf, and Fleet Foxes. I had never heard them, or heard of them, before last evening, but they were a most pleasant discovery, and gently eased the audience into a receptive mood for Basia Bulat's set that followed. They were, quite simply, marvelous.
We saw Toronto's Basia Bulat earlier this year opening for Pickwick at The Earl, and were charmed by her voice, her musicianship, and her adorable stage presence. Eddie's Attic is a little off the beaten track for me, and not my favorite place to hear music due to all it's rules and required seating at tables, but not only was this show worth it, it might have been the perfect venue for both of these bands. I'd rather get a lecture about not talking during the performance before a Basia Bulat set at Eddie's Attic than forego the lecture at The Earl but have to contend with all the chatter and socializing from the noisy patrons at the bar.
But anyway, last night was only her second appearance in Atlanta, and this time Basia was backed by a drummer and bass for much of her set (she performed solo when she opened for Pickwick).
“Ms. Bulat’s voice is rich and nuanced," says the New York Times, "and her songs are as sophisticated as they are charming." I would have to agree.
Basia’s third album, Tall Tall Shadow, was released on October 1 and was co-produced with Tim Kingsbury of Arcade Fire and Mark Lawson, the engineer for The Suburbs. Basia has said, “This time around, I felt braver—I wanted to play with exploring the boundaries of the folk music some people know me for.” In this regard, she reminds me of Sharon Van Etten, another singer-songwriter who's gaining confidence and bravery with each successive release and expanding her boundaries beyond the niche in which she started.
Comparisons to early Joni Mitchell are inevitable and not unflattering, but Basia has moved far beyond the folk of Blue and Court & Spark. You can hear a recapitulaton of her sound in her song Tall Tall Shadow, that starts in Mitchell territory with Basia solo on keyboards, but as the band starts to fill in, Basia's voice acquires that "impassioned yearning" referred to by The New Yorker, before soaring into the song's climax and moving into Van Ettten indie-rock territory.
During the course of her set last night, she played guitar, 10-string mandolin, autoharp, and keyboards, and played them all well. For her encore, she played a hammered dulcimer, and the middle segment of her set had her on stage alone, without the band. Whatever context she found herself in, whatever instrument found its way into her hands, she played with honesty, emotion, and charm, and warmed the hearts of everybody in the Attic last night.