Newfoundland duo Fortunate Ones’ second album Hold Fast is a study in resilience and partnership.
And Catherine Allan and Andrew O’Brien know a lot about what it takes to make a good partnership. Their debut album, The Bliss was nominated for a JUNO Award, garnered two #1 singles on CBC Radio 2’s Top 20, won the 2016 “Rising Star” ECMA, the 2015 “Vocal Group” Canadian Folk Music Award, and four 2015 Music Newfoundland and Labrador Awards.
Over the last five years they have played over 300 shows together and have even garnered the attention of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when he singled out a track from their 2016 Christmas EP All Will Be Well, as one of his favourite listens for the holidays.
With the whirlwind that has been the band’s first 5 years it seems apt that the first track on this record, “Northern Star” calls on listeners to reflect, stay strong, and move forward.
“There’s a quickening of the blood / Inside the hammer of your heart / To know where you are going / You’ve got to find out where you are”
Catherine was moved to write the chorus of “Northern Star” after hearing stories of refugees moving to Canada, and imagining what that journey must be like… The loss of one’s home, having to uproot after trauma. The song reflects the need for some kind of compass, guidance and purpose on an uncertain path. When Andrew wrote the verses separately, not knowing the point of her inspiration, the chorus and verses aligned in a way that was surprising and exciting.
On that path to find home, we are certain to be tested, and Hold Fast is rich with songs about the trials and tribulations that one may face on the way. The title track, for example, creates a mantra of overcoming insecurities that hold us back.
“Don’t be weighed down by the past / Or fooled by the seedlings / Of that greener grass”
Hold Fast also celebrates friendship and partnership. The song “Steady As She Goes” is dedicated to all those affected by the Fort McMurray wildfire of 2016, especially the first responders. Inspired by a true story, it speaks to how one person relies on another in the face of loss and insurmountable challenge.
“I still have you beside me / I still have hope inside me now / And I won’t quit riding on / No I was born to ride it out”
Fortunate Ones were supported by a remarkable array of collaborators on Hold Fast, including songwriters Alan Doyle (Great Big Sea), Tim Baker (Hey Rosetta!), and Meg Warren (Repartee). Musically, the cast here includes Jim Bryson, Good Lovelies, Alexa Dirks (Begonia), Kinley Dowling (Hey Rosetta!), and the multi-talented Ledwell who produced the album at his studio in Lake Echo, Nova Scotia.
This collective effort has yielded songs from a band whose humility and quiet dignity belies a roaring artistic heart, which has been captured beautifully on the yearning Hold Fast.
With her third album, The Details, Mo Kenney traces her own strange, devastating, and ultimately hopeful trip through the trials and tribulations of booze-fuelled breakdowns, clouds of depression, and disintegrating relationships. On each of its 14 tracks, she unflinchingly confronts her annihilation and eventual redemption, leaving nothing out. The concept album is her most personal and cohesive work to date—combining elements of bruising rock ’n’ roll, vivid psychedelia, and haunting, left-of-the-dial pop, Kenney navigates the darkest waters in her life with self-deprecation, genuine soul-baring, and typical black humour. It opens with a calm before the storm as the eerie sadness of “Cat’s Not a Cake”—about splitting a beloved pet in half as a relationship falls apart—provides a deceptively gentle beginning to a ride that swiftly steers into self-destruction.
Following up with the off-the-rails overdrive of “On The Roof,” The Details explodes out of the gate, finding Kenney unable to escape the dangerous spiral she finds herself in. Before and during writing the album, Kenney was en route to rock bottom: depressed with dark blues and drinking like a fish, unable to hold herself or her relationships together, alienating the people she loves, and living hell-bent on oblivion. She comes to terms with her own toxic behaviour while channeling the late Elliott Smith through spectral atmospheres on “June 3rd.” With “Maybe I Am”—a reverb-soaked tune that turns to punchy guitar riffs—she realizes in the midst of trying to hook up with someone that she can’t interact with humans properly. The hazy, laid back calm of “Counting” finds her worried she’s fallen so far into despair that she’s losing her mind. And the vicious, rollicking “If You’re Not Dead” shows
her playing warped mind games over feral guitar solos and biting hooks.
Somewhere along the way, Kenney finds herself dazed and broken in a place that not many people find their way back from. “Unglued,” with its breezy sway, is likely the most summery song put to tape about being fed up with your own messy self. “I Can’t Wait” recalls the gauzy dreamscapes of Yo La Tengo with a hushed and grateful understanding that as bad as things are, it’s not the end of the world. But it’s not necessarily smooth sailing from there, as Kenney struggles to stay optimistic with “Lights Out,” and sings about getting clocked in the face at a bar by some meathead during “Punchy.” Still, she can’t help but find the hilarity in getting slugged, slyly laughing through her bloody teeth the whole time.
Finally, she arrives in less troubled seas, closing softly on the sparse, clear-minded “Feelin’ Good.” The storms weathered to get there may be the kind that leave lasting scars (or at least a few post-bar stitches), but with clear skies on the horizon, Kenney wears those scars as a reminder of what she’s been through, and the kind of seasons in hell she’s capable of enduring. Her latest is a record of all those storms and the routes and detours and trials of pushing through them while keeping her sense of humour gracefully intact. By turns rowdy, reflective, brave, funny, and deeply honest, it signals an already accomplished songwriter coming fully and completely into her own as an artist. The Details vividly documents Kenney’s fight to survive her own worst enemy—herself.