Terra Spencer & Ben Caplan
A Unique and Dynamic Duo Challenging Our Preconceptions about Folk, Roots and Canadiana.
I fell in love with not just the album; when I first heard Terra Spencer’s last release CHASING RABBITS, but her voice and songwriting style too; so was thrilled to little bits when she sent a pre-release of OLD NEWS with a note suggesting as it was so very different she wouldn’t mind/be surprised if I didn’t like it or review it.
Pah! She doesn’t know me as well as she thinks.
Even though I knew the background to the process behind this album coming to fruition; I still wasn’t prepared for the intensity of each individual song and the way the pair sing them.
Track #1 Bricks & Mortar is listed as ‘by’ both Terra and Ben; with Ms Spencer taking the lead with her pearlescent vocals shadowed by her delightfully played piano; then I actually held my breath when Ben Caplan entered proceedings, followed by a mournful brass section; giving off a Colliery Band vibe.
I knew his name but a long trawl through my database unearthed nothing by him … and although I ‘recognised’ his voice I’d never heard it before.
I say ‘recognised’ as …..and I’m only going to say this once …… he’s a dead ringer for a youthful Tom Waits!
So add all of that together and it’s no wonder I pressed ‘repeat’ three or four times before I felt the need to move on.
This is followed by the delightful Mr. M; which is solely Terra Spencer on a tale of unrequited love; sung perhaps in the manner of perhaps Anne Murray or even Olivia Newton-John; which isn’t a bad comparison at all.
There’s something really special about the arrangements here; especially on the very personal At Your Service about a young woman meeting an older man in a Doctor’s waiting room; although a timeless story as his life-story unfolds; it takes on a whole new resonance knowing that it was written in the middle of the pandemic. It’s a tiny tale in the grand scheme of things; but millions of people around the world will know someone who died in similar lonely circumstances.
The back story to the album is that the two friends took an opportunity to meet in Caplan’s home during a window in the various lockdowns; with Terra bringing a bunch of songs with her to work on.
Knowing this gives an extra ‘edge’ to songs like Messy and Saudade both sung impeccably by Terra; and the haunting Maybe when the pair sing together …. which I find the contrast of two entirely different voices being totally stunning.
With two very disparate voices; OLD NEWS is a series of highs and lows, dark and shade; with Terra providing the lightness to Ben’s naturally dark shade on a set of songs that weren’t necessarily written for this format; but end up being a perfect combination.
Perhaps it’s the combination of ‘light and shade’ that I can’t seperate two songs for a singular Favourite.
Tucked away in the middle is The Circus; which is a tight as a drum Jazzy arrangement with Terra using her voice like an actual musical instrument, hitting high and low notes with aplomb …. while the song itself could either be about a relationship or perhaps a statement about the political world we now find ourselves in …. or something completely different; as everyone who hears it will have their own interpretation.
The other; VHS was the first song the couple pulled together in this format; with Ben Caplan’s droll voice and emotive piano playing providing heartache of the finest hue. As a ‘man of a certain age’ I love the use of a VHS tape as a metaphor and cornerstone for a broken relationship. Possibly it’s the mood I’m in at the moment; but this may well be one of the finest songs I’ve heard this year.
There’s almost a theatrical soundtrack theme to the way the album is structured; although there’s no golden thread linking each song; apart from in my head.
The hirsute Caplan’s debut as a Producer bodes well for the future; specifically if the two friends can get together in nicer circumstances to put together a follow up.