Basia Bulat – Heart of My Own

January 01, 1970

(Rough Trade)

 

www.roughtrade.com

 

Like the old saw about sports referees and umpires,
producers typically do their best work when you forget they’re there. The
second record from Canadian singer/songwriter Basia Bulat has some memorable
moments and some miscues, but what ails it lands as much at producer Howard
Bilerman’s feet as it does the artist’s. That’s no knock on either’s talents,
but what could’ve been attributed to growing pains on Bulat’s 2007 debut, Oh, My Darling, now just feels like a poor
match.

 

Bilerman — the Montreal fixture best-known for his work
with Arcade Fire — slathers Bulat’s up-tempo songs in dramatic orchestrations
much better suited to big ensembles (he’s also produced Godspeed You! Black
Emperor and Thee Silver Mt. Zion). In the process, Bulat’s signature instrument
– a weathered, part-gasp/part-yelp that recalls Natalie Merchant in some places
and Antony Hegarty in others – gets overwhelmed or dialed up to 11 (aka
“annoying”).

 

It’s not like Bulat’s rootsy vignettes don’t work with
strings; on the title track two fiddle lines embrace wistfully over banjo and
acoustic guitar, and the singer’s vocals dial into the mood perfectly. The
sparer arrangements, as a rule, just suit Bulat better, none more than the
additional iTunes track, “Hush,” which is taken a cappella and suggests that
she would make a great gospel or soul singer. But too many times the strings
gang up – and not in a supporting, countrypolitan role — to take over.
Bilerman’s arrangements are so busy they obliterate the shuffling paces and
twangy accents of songs like “Go On” and “Goldrush.” Perhaps most telling, his
arrangements and her voice blend best on the record’s low-key waltzes, where Bulat’s
lilting warble matches the hesitating tempos of the elegant “If It Rains” and
equally wistful “I’m Forgetting Everyone.” There, at least, the strings return
to their supporting roles instead of hijacking the songs.

 

Bulat’s lyrics still tend toward the obvious at times as
they do on “Sweet & Sour” – “I’ve played out my hand, I’m turning it in/The
house always wins in the end” – but show more sophistication compared to her
debut. You also sense she has a better grip on how to best utilize her vocal style
now. But you’d like to hear what Bulat would do with another producer next time
around, because working with this one has been a mixed bag on two recordings
now.

 

Standout Tracks: “I’m Forgetting Everyone” “Run On” JOHN SCHACHT

 

 

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