Crystalline-voiced Canadiana songstrel Geneviève Racette with a sterling third release, awash with maudlin melancholy.
Release date: 18th March 2022
Format: Digital (Bandcamp)
There is a certain timbre in the female voice that just invites immersion, silky tones begging involvement and investigation. Geneviève Racette has one such voice, and this record may well have a similar effect upon your ears as, largely, it did mine. A name new to me, this is her third full-length recording. A native Québecoise, she was born in Montreal into a musical family, and, as seems so often the way, is already world famous in her own country; 2020 saw her the Emerging Artist of the Year at the Canadian Music Awards. Unsurprisingly, given her roots, she sings in both English and French, the sole French offering on this project, Les Adieux, undoubtedly one of the highlights.
The songs veer toward the melancholy: “This one’s for the broken hearts club, you know who you are,” is what she writes on the sleeve. Arrangements tend to the sparse; a well-constructed yet airy structure of acoustic guitars, piano and a muted rhythm section. Very occasionally an echo or two of effects creep in, adding lustre, and elsewhere a pedal steel adds the graceful country flourishes that so many Canadians seem to wear so effortlessly. Canadiana, if you will. But it is her voice that sticks fastest, a pure and liquid instrument, a bit like a more pristine Hope Sandoval, or even a more wide-awake Margo Timmins, with the reference points of Mazzy Star and Cowboy Junkies arguably equivalently apt for the delicate arrangements.
Hostage opens the album, a mournful lament of self-laceration, which is as beguiling as it is beautifully bleak: “Broken is all I’m ever going to be.” Ouch… The piano and the electric guitar frame her vocals exquisitely. Maybe follows, as she again takes potshots at her self-esteem, a rolling fingerpicked backing carrying the melody forward into understated anthem territory. A quietly effective song, what it lacks in dynamic is carried by the incisive repetition. If the mood subtly alters as she switches language, ominous piano chords leave little doubt that her life, in whatsoever language, isn’t coming up rosy any time yet. Les Adieux, as a title, neither strains the language skills of the anglophones in her audience. Some blink and you’ll miss them echoed beats are here a treat, embellishing the range of textures on her palette. Her vocals get the full double/treble tracking to give additional background heft, the electric guitar, Eleonore Pitre throughout, again a joy, cleaving in towards the climax, with some lovely reverbed chordage.
A problem I sometimes have with artists, seeking claw holds on the cliffside of success, is when someone more famous gets to guest. Dallas Green, aka City And Colour, is seemingly even more world-famous in Canada, but his appearance on Someone, track 4, lets down most the rest of this project, as it is a somewhat anodyne duet by numbers. Pleasant enough, but I don’t think she needs him. Thankfully, Waiting For Your Call returns to her solo introspection, a haunting piano weaving in and out of her plaintive beseeching. Again, a slightly weaker song, it is mainly her thoroughly believable delivery that lifts it out of the ordinary. I think little doubt she sings from the heart.
Satellite is altogether more like it, with a nod to the stylistic “doff” of drumbeat so familiar from acoustic Neil Young. Driven along by sombre piano, it remains defiantly maudlin, managing also to be upbeat. Strangely, as the choral backing vocals sweep in, I am reminded of fellow Canadians, the Rankin Family. Sober is then a second highlight, just Racette and her own acoustic guitar. One for the wee hours, if your constitution can stand it. It might just have you craving strong drink, so spare is her rendition.
The Tide is another picked construction of some daunting majesty, the pedal steel wrenching on your gutstrings, as she does the same for your heart. The tune carries some distant memory of Gordon Lightfoot’s If You Could Read My Mind, in my view an unconscious and entirely appropriate lift, in a nod of kinship. The last song is a further guitar and voice soliloquy, and, whilst not exactly cheerful, is at least a gesture towards a hopeful optimism, and, as such, rounds off the piece perfectly.
A voice like this deserves the listening. Whether this is going to widen her acclaim beyond Canada, I’m uncertain. The temptation may be to pursue the lower common denominator of blander country influences that the market might offer, rather than the more singular singer-songwriter attitudes presented here, but she would be a well-received player at smaller UK festivals like Maverick. I hope she gets to get over.
Here’s a solo live performance of the opening track, Hostage: