Thursday, December 11, 2008

Where We Were - Kerri Woelke

A slice of Americana from Canada

Where We Were
Artist: Kerri Woelke (www.kerriwoelke.com)
Label: Signpost Music
Length: 14 tracks/50:51 minutes

Singing to a karoke machine in her early years and learning to play guitar in a dorm bathroom were just the beginning for Kerri Woelke. She spent years refining her skills in Canadian bands Dirty Old Hank and Gretchen before switching to a singer/songwriter mode. Today she is an Artist in Development with Canadian indie label Signpost Music. Where We Were, her sophomore CD, follows her self-titled debut. Since September 2008 she has been on tour with Steve Bell.

Students of relationships take note. With a folk, country and roots oriented style of music, Woelke often sings about demise between people and the hope of renewal. “I’ve danced with lots before / but never felt so bruised and sore / is it possible to love like this,” she asks on “Last Dance.” In the next stanza she wonders if “this love we’ve lost” can “be found again.” On “Sweep” we hear her resolve after a breakup. “I’ll just sweep / clean up the mess you made of me.”

But don’t get the wrong impression. This is not all about “suffering here below,” to borrow a phrase from an old hymn. Something magical takes place on “Take a Chance.” Only a woman could write such an inviting and vulnerable song. “Take a chance / take a chance on me,” she sings in a childlike voice. This sounds like something that one of Sufjan Steven’s background singers would make. The music is sparse with exotic instrumentation including a banjitar, which is found on a number of songs. Vibes and a quiet bass clarinet make this the perfect soundtrack for a modern day fairy tale—a show like Pushing Daisies could work this into an episode. This song alone makes the CD worth having.

As she continues with, “This is my little love song out to you / I know you thought we were through / and now I’m left here loving you,” my heart melts, and I bask in the sweetness. Songs like this are the reason why I listen to music. They sweep away the gathering gloom, and suddenly the world seems a brighter place.

No synths, light production, and lots of acoustic instrumentation that meshes well, make for a pleasant, organic sound throughout the CD. Often the tone of her voice and some use of pedal steel guitars give this a light country feel. But there is also blues, gospel, and even a little Johnny Cash influence. I could imagine June Carter or the man in black singing some of these songs.

“What Would it Take” and “Tonight I Am the Wind” lean toward alt-folk and are favorites. On the former she intrigues by asking, “What would it take for me to be / happy in my own skin.” The music is acoustic picking accompanied by a low-sounding distorted guitar, reminding me of Katie Herzig. In the latter song you can hear the solace in her voice, “Any peace that I might find / comes in the valleys where I hide / I pass through landscapes turned to dust / carrying pieces of my past.” Here she sounds like a woman at peace.

I’m partial to her folk side, but the rootsy feel and her strong voice make the entire CD appealing. Nothing but good will come from her continued collaboration with Steve Bell and Signpost.
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