Anishinaabe author, poet, storyteller, and organizer Leanne Simpson reviews Tara Williamson's new EP, Lie Low.
I first heard Tara Williamson’s voice on a very hot summer night at the Red Garnet bar in Peterborough, Ontario. She was on stage with the swagger of Cliff Cardinal, and they looked like they were having more fun on stage that I’d had in my entire life. I remember Sundogs, but that can’t be right. I remember it being smoky but that can’t be right. The humidity and sweat must have just have been that thick.
Tara came off the stage and over to the bar where my friend Patti and I were sitting. She ordered whiskey, which impressed me. I told her she needed to record an album. She threw her head back and laughed, our brown eyes meeting ever so briefly and I remember thinking, she doesn’t know how good she is. She doesn’t know she had the room.
She played more shows. Peterborough. Toronto. Winnipeg, Saskatoon. She performed with Christa Couture, Billie Joe Green, and Arthur Renwick. She went to the Diverse As This Land vocal intensive with MC, singer, musician, and poet, Kinnie Starr at the Banff Centre and got inspired. She wrote more songs. She found a vocal coach. She applied for grants. Every month or so, she’d email me garage band tracks with sincere apologies for bad recordings and standardized drum tracks. They left me floored. I lent her my house and she wrote songs. I lent her my mic and she wrote songs. I drove her and her gear to the odd gig in my fake minivan just to be part of the sheer creative energy that she was radiating. She got out of relationships and wrote songs. She got into relationship and wrote songs. She quit smoking and wrote songs. She started smoking again and wrote more songs. She moved four times and wrote songs. She worked full time all day as a professor and wrote songs all night. We spent the winter protesting and round dancing. She was there with us and wrote a protest song. I wrote a book, freaked out because I thought it was bad, sent it to her for feedback, and she wrote a song sharing the name of the book.
I’ve never seen anyone write so effortlessly and prolifically over a sustained period of time. I started to think there was something wrong with me.
And these weren’t just any songs. They were songs that coaxed buried emotions and memories out of my body that I had long filed away. They revived old feelings of love and betrayal, ferocity and tension. They made me cry. They made me feel loved. They made me feel a little bit less alone, normal even, because these weren’t just Tara’s songs, they were my stories too.
Over the summer of 2013, Tara went into the studio with our local sound engineering hero, James McKenty who was fresh off a gig with Blue Rodeo, and recorded six tracks for her debut record Lie Low. I had the album for less than 24 hours and according to itunes I’d listened to it 48 times.
Of Anishinaabe and Nehayo ancestry, Tara’s first instrument is clearly her voice - beautiful, distinct, fluid, moving effortlessly from the gentle, acoustic love song “Come to Me” to the dramatic, whimsical, Anishinaabe/Nehayo show tune “If I were a tree”. Yeah, Anishinaabe/Nehayo show-tune reminiscent of Tomson Highway’s musical numbers (whom I’ve watched enormously enjoy her live performance of the song), but with a little more edge. “Boy” is seductive warning and raw exploration of the first negotiation of an intimate relationship. “July” is its counterpoint – a gentle, accepting letting go and appreciation of the way it is. Her lyrics are often raw poetic truths of want, loss, desire and more than survival.
Musically, the album is difficult to describe because I’ve never heard anything like it before. At its core, this is an emerging singer-songwriter that is already an accomplished songwriter moving effortlessly from pop to R&B to jazz. This is a collection of songs meant to be sung on stages, in bars, on the shores of big prairie lakes and around fire pits in backyards. These are the songs of our times, of our lives, our loves.
Download and listen to "Boy" below:
Tara celebrated her EP release on November 30th at the Monarch Tavern in Toronto, along with her 6-piece band The Good Liars, Sean Conway & The Shiners and Arthur Renwick. Lie Low is available for purchase through tarawilliamson.net, iTunes, and select independent record stores across Canada. Tara's new single, Boy is available as a free download at tarawilliamson.net. Follow Tara on twitter @WilliamsonTara