Chamber folk concept album from Canadian prairie songstress Raine Hamilton.
Release Date: 21st January 2022
Label: Self Release
Formats: Stream / Download
I’ve never before had the pleasure of reviewing anything quite like Brave Land, the new concept album from Canadian prairie songstress/storyweaver Raine Hamilton. Well – I say ‘new album’ but, in fact, Brave Land has been leaking out to those who already know about this remarkable talent for the past twelve months, at the rate of one single per month – and now the cohesive whole is available.
Brave Land is a delightful, elevating piece of work that really gets as close to sheer perfection as it’s possible to be. A concept album with the theme of mountains, and the courage, wisdom and otherworldly connection they represent, it’s a collection of acoustic chamber-folk pieces in which Raine – who plays violin and guitar and is the owner of the clearest and most divine voice you’ll hear this year – is accompanied by her friends Quintin Bart and Natanielle Felicitas on, respectively, double bass and cello. An amalgam of folk and classical influences, Brave Land also nods regularly in the direction of gospel and even soul, and the result is simply wonderful.
Hailing from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Raine grew up in a musical family, was writing songs from an early age and is a classically trained violinist. She often leads workshops in songwriting and fiddle tune writing and regularly performs concerts with American sign language interpretation, demonstrating her commitment to the belief that art, and music, is there for everyone to enjoy. In 2018, she won the Canadian Folk Music Award for Emerging Artist of the Year and she performs regularly at Festivals and concert venues all over Canada. Brave Land is her third album, and follows her acclaimed 2018 release, Night Sky. The plaudits have, indeed, poured in and, on the evidence that Brave Land has to offer, they will continue to do so. Raine Hamilton is a name to watch out for.
Opening track Love Has Come For Me serves accurate notice of the delights on offer. Raine describes the song as “An anthem of radical self-love… a queer love song I wrote to myself” and it sets out wonderfully the manifesto of gospel-tinged folk with a breathtaking accompaniment of strings. The album’s press release suggests that the album’s predominant sound is a mix of string quartet + Sarah Harmer + Joni Mitchell and title track Brave Land gives us our first real taste of Raine’s Joni Mitchell credentials as she leads the charge with fingerpicked guitar and that crystal vocal. The bass and cello combine to give a baroque feel to the tune, and a beautiful flute effect evokes the mountain scenery of the high Andes.
The strings are still there for the sad, beautiful, Over The Mountain, but are used more discretely, allowing the listener to focus fully on Raine’s vocal delivery, as she hits those high notes perfectly! The Joni Mitchell influence is evident once again in the joyful Believer, but the string arrangement makes it clear that this is, truly, Raine’s own work. Her guitar provides a simple guideline around which the bass, cello and Raine’s voice all weave their considerable magic.
It Matters takes the story in a bluesy, almost rocky direction. The song’s guitar/bass/cello backing is rock solid, and there are some wonderful flowery flourishes from Natanielle’s cello, as Raine recounts a harrowing story of an encounter between a racist police officer and Indigenous elder Gramma Shingoose, whilst Try builds from a simple folk number into a full-blown string trio piece as the backing builds progressively from its subtle beginnings.
The Celtic-flavoured Mountain Henge is a true highlight on an album where every track is special. The violin, cello and bass combine in a ponderous, atmospheric tune; the vocals are almost secondary to the music but are wonderful nevertheless and it would be easy to imagine Sandy Denny singing along.
Raine switches to Latin for the hymnal Dominae Sanctae. The song is a paean to the women of Raine’s family and lineage and the use of Latin recognizes the prayers of her forebears. It’s a lovely piece of music, almost classical in its structure, and Raine delivers a choirboy-perfect vocal. The lazy instrumental Dreamer is a sheer delight – a rich and thoroughly enjoyable chamber piece and the folky A Lover’s Word is, if anything, even better. My favourite track on the album, it’s a song that brings together everything that’s good about Brave Land – the strings, Raine’s vocal (at its very best here) and the fusion of musical styles – and that ‘String quartet + Sarah Harmer + Joni Mitchell’ description is never more evident than it is here.
A lunar eclipse that Raine was fortunate to witness whilst traveling in Alberta’s Banff National Park provided the inspiration for Eclipse, the album’s closing track. Another highly atmospheric song, it’s laced with beautiful harmony vocals and an interesting glockenspiel (?) backing that gives an impression of a clock measuring the passage of time. It’s a lovely ending to an absolutely wonderful album. Brave Land is a masterpiece and Raine Hamilton is a phenomenal talent. If there was any justice in this world, she’d already be a major name – perhaps her music is just TOO good, but let’s hope Brave Land brings her the recognition she so richly deserves.
Watch Raine’s string trio perform Brave Land – the album’s title track – here: