From the first note to the last, Swan is pitch perfect and her tone is rich and mellifluous, calling to mind the easy vocals of Emmylou Harris or Gillian Welch. Hers is the type of voice that manages to capture listener’s ears with ease and never truly lets go.
The instrumentation may be firmly planted in the roots genre, but Bri-anne Swan resists convention when it comes to lyrics on her new record Letters Home. She’s been inspired by artists both traditional and contemporary, and you can feel the dual influences. Bringing it all together on her second full length record, she examines the question “Can you ever really go home again”? As she explores the tension between what is and what was, she tackles her “modern folk tales” from a variety of interesting viewpoints.
She typically “writes about literary or spiritual characters from a modern feminist perspective”, and as a result, she admits these aren’t your typical folk stories. But they are still songs for the people. Bri-anne’s educational and religious background can sometimes inform her writing, and when it does, it’s a fresh, contemplative take for people of all beliefs. The tracks are catchy and interesting without forcing the listener to dig deep, but the challenge is there for those wanting more. Wayne Strongman, founder of Tapestry New Opera and Member of the Order of Canada, sums it up by saying “I have been privileged to work with some of the finest writers and composers who have been birthed by this country, and it is in this light that Bri-anne’s gift in text for metaphor, clarity of personal truth, and the elegant simplicity of her melodies have been a joy to celebrate”.
Producer Mitch Girio, who calls Bri-anne “a shining light on the indie folk scene”, has helmed previous projects for the singer/songwriter. This time around he shares production duties with Bri-anne herself and Great Lake Swimmers bassist Bret Higgins, who also co-wrote three songs on the album. Thanks in part to a successful crowd funding campaign, the producing triumvirate put together a dream team of Canadian musicians. Juno nominee Dean Drouillard plays electric guitar (Sarah Harmer, Royal Wood), Christine Bougie pitches in on lap steel and Robbie Grunwald (Jill Barber, Justin Rutledge) joins on piano and organ. Bri-anne calls Joshua Van Tassel and Higgins her “favourite rhythm section in Canada”, and says they “came in and had a really good instinctive sense of what I was trying to do”. Together with a full string section arranged by Bri-anne herself, the band delivered the rustic, modern folk sound Bri-anne imagined when she wrote these songs.
Bri-anne’s musical influences run the gamut from Joan Baez and Leonard Cohen to Lisa Loeb and Sam Phillips. But one Canadian legend has had a lifelong impact on Bri-anne – Gordon Lightfoot. She owns every piece of vinyl he ever released, and they even come from the same small town. It is with this level of reverence that she covers Lightfoot’s “Now & Then” on Letters Home. It’s a current take on a song that is a connection to her past – a perfect fit for a project that deals with a longing to go back to another place and time.
Bri-anne has released one previous album, “These Are All My Friends…” (2009) and a five song e.p. entitled “Ballad of A Canadian Superhero (2011). She is proud to have toured in every province and has shared the stage with artists like Sylvia Tyson, Liona Boyd, Veronica Tennant, Tanglefoot, Dala, Emma-Lee and Kirsten Jones (who also guests as a backing vocalist on the new record). She has produced original music for several non-profit groups and she wrote the title song for the short film With True Love Showers. As a designated lead artist through the Royal Conservatory of Music, Bri-anne leads workshops in schools and other community settings, using music as a catalyst for learning and growth.
Girio calls Bri-anne “One of the most dedicated artists I’ve worked with over the past 10 years”, which included bringing her newborn baby into the studio day after day as she put the finishing touches on Letters Home. As a mother of two, she is more determined than ever to continue to follow her dreams, and her commitment was echoed by the generosity of the large number of donors to her fundraising campaign. Letters Home is a love letter to those supporters, a conversation with her past and a tangible step toward her future in making music.