Robust songwriters the Small Glories perform with vocal chemistry and electric energy
“I could sing for the money
I could sing for the praise
Spitting out nothing
Wasting time up on the stage
Good folks are bleeding freedom
Denied their truth
One thing I can do is sing for you” —“Sing”
Though it is one of the least poetic tracks on “The Assiniboine & the Red,” the new album from Canadian folk duo the Small Glories, “Sing” is a kind of mission statement from multi-instrumentalist JD Edwards and full-throated vocalist/clawhammer banjoist Cara Luft. Named after two rivers that meet in Winnipeg, the Manitoba city that Edwards and Luft call home, the album is a mash note to Canada and a brightly engaging platform for their robust songwriting.
Luft, who co-founded the Wailin’ Jennys before returning to her solo career in 2004, is a soulful vocalist, and Edwards harmonizes with her vibrato-textured alto like a heat-seeking magnet. That vocal chemistry has made them popular on the festival circuit and is particularly invigorating during the thrumming “Don’t Back Down,” the Appalachian-flavored “Long Long Moon,” and the continent-crossing “Oh My Love,” whose spiraling harmonies give wing to the song’s defiant hope despite the protagonist’s heartache.
Onstage, they tilt more than turn toward each other, and play their instruments with enough volume and energy to forge virtual arcs of electricity; Edwards dips and bends with guitar, harmonica or hand percussion, and Luft often punctuates phrases by flinging a hand in the air, as if she might burst with excitement. Sly, self-deprecating jokes are a reliable source of humor, and they connect with audiences through their storytelling introductions as much as they do through their songs. Newer tunes offering sing-along comfort are a bonus: “When the waters rise — don’t back down/ When you hit hard times — don’t back down/ … Don’t give in, don’t back down.”
— Bliss Bowen
The Small Glories perform at McCabe’s (3101 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica) at 8 p.m. Saturday, July 13. Tickets are $18 at (310) 828-4497 or mccabes.com