|Sad–Eyed Lonesome Lady|
Steph Cameron — Sad–Eyed Lonesome Lady (23 SEPT 2014)
Location: Winlaw, British Columbia ~~ East Vancouver, Vancouver Island, and now the Kootenay region of the B.C., Canada
Album release: 23 SEP 2014 (UK)
Record Label: PHEROMONE RECORDINGS
01 Railroad Boy 2:59
02 Goodbye Molly 3:22
03 Sad–Eyed Lonesome Lady 4:07
04 Glory 3:54
05 Poppa, You Can Take Me Home 3:11
06 Interlude One 0:48
07 Blues At My Window 3:08
08 Five Dollars 2:35
09 Cry Baby 3:01
10 Ellis Pine 3:47
11 Bury Me Where Wild Roses Grow 3:19
12 Interlude Two 2:20
13 Many Miles To Go 3:09REVIEW
BY ZACHARY HOULE, 22 September 2014; SCORE: 9/10
SAD–EYED LONESOME LADY IS THE KIND OF PLATTER THAT, IF ALL GOES TO PLAN, IS GOING TO MAKE STEPH CAMERON A LITTLE LESS SAD–EYED AND LONESOME WHEN SHE TAKES THE STAGE AT A CONCERT HALL NEAR YOU.
Wide-Eyed and Winning
•≈ Sad–Eyed Lonesome Lady, the freshman album from British Columbia, Canada–based singer–songwriter Steph Cameron, is a happy accident, one that wasn’t even supposed to happen. At least, not yet. Cameron came to Toronto to record just one song, “Goodbye Molly”, with her label owner and partner in the recording studio. She was to lay it down as a test run. However, they had the cut down pat in just a couple of hours, so they kept going. Three days later, they had a 13–song finished record. •≈ Recorded to two–track tape, and featuring just Cameron’s plaintive voice, an acoustic guitar, and just a touch of harmonica here and there, it’s hard to draw lines to what Sad–Eyed Lonesome Lady sounds like. It’s not country. It’s not really pure folk. •≈ Not particularly bluesy, either, though there’s a touch of it. It’s as though Cameron has just shaken up those three genres, and put her stamp on a rootsy kind of music that’s distinctly individual. Sure, Steph Cameron is not Radiohead, pushing music into new and unheard sonic territory, but, gosh, she’s practically just as good. •≈ Her album is strongly fulfilling, immensely captivating, lush, and gorgeous — even when she’s dealing with the nitty–gritty — and the mark of a real talent. Steph Cameron is just someone you’ve got to hear. Sad–Eyed Lonesome Lady is a very, very stripped down, acoustic album, but Cameron makes it all hold together throughout the course of 13 songs. You would think music of this nature would get tiring after 13 songs, but Cameron keeps you coming back for more.
•≈ Sad–Eyed Lonesome Lady is a fetching slice of Canadiana, it turns out. She’s unafraid to put Canadian place names into her songs, and even the first track and premiere single “Railroad Boy” is loaded with such references, which is a brave move, despite the fact that the world is changing and singing about Canada is not the taboo it once was. “He’d follow me to Montreal / And he’d follow me to France / He’d said I’d give you just about anything / For one teeny tiny chance,” she sings. Saskatoon and Nova Scotia is also named in the song. Additionally, Cameron comes off as a Canuck Tom Waits at times. Not in terms of gravelly vocal delivery, but how she takes the masculine and bends it to her own will. The suicide–themed song “Bury Me Where Wild Roses Grow” has the memorable line “Give me a kiss and a good shotgun shell.” Cameron sings of bad landlords, boyfriends who’ll steal your money, and life lived in the sketchiest of bars. All country tropes, to be sure, but Cameron straddles the line between being sweet and innocent and being a tempting femme fatale. There are multiple personalities on display, but Cameron sings of the life lived hard, but with a kind of flightiness that suggests that something else is right around the corner. On “Railroad Boy” she wants to settle down with her partner who traveled the rails with her and marry him, which would be a contradiction of terms.
•≈ However, as good of a raconteur that Cameron is, it’s the music that pulls you in and keeps you coming back — as simplistic and bare as it might be. It suits Cameron’s persona as a dewy–eyed wild woman very well. The title track is a nimbly, finger–plucked minor key ballad that sounds remotely like Johnny Cash. “Goodbye Molly”, the track that got Cameron onto the path of creating an album in the first place, is a rollocking roots stomper. You can easily see how this was recorded live off the floor, along with the rest of the album, but that raises an interesting point: this is a finely honed record. There are no discernible flubs or gaffes; every note — either sung or plucked — has a passion behind it along with precision. That feeling carries into songs like “Blues at My Window”, which is full of pessimism but is sung in a way that isn’t world–weary in the slightest, and it’s great to hear Cameron having fun with the material. It’s as though Cameron is saying, “Meh, the world is a bad, violent place, but I have a carefree nature that will pull me through it.” That is astonishingly confident, especially from someone so seemingly young.•≈ Wise beyond her years, Steph Cameron has unleashed what should swiftly become a Canadian classic. This is such an enjoyable disc, all the more so considering that it was recorded quickly and seemingly on the cheap. Cameron’s songs are raw and impassionate, along with an agreeable optimism. In many ways, Sad–Eyed Lonesome Lady has the hootenanny feel of a folk record, but she tiptoes into country with that well–placed harp, and some of the songs have a bluesy swagger. It’s phenomenal to hear just the kind of range that Cameron has, and that she can easily weave in and out of genre so cavalierly.
•≈ Adjectives fail me at describing the nature of this album. It’s absolutely fabulous, and nothing feels out of place. Time will tell if this record becomes as revered as, say, Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush or Harvest or even Joni Mitchell’s Blue. However, this disc has all the hallmarks of an archetypal Canadian record, and it may just be that some time from now, your kids might be asking you where were you when you first Steph Cameron. Sad–Eyed Lonesome Lady is a monumental, brilliant album stocked with zero filler (even though it has two guitar interludes) and heralds the crowning of a bright new talent. Considering that this record might have not gotten made in the fortuitous way that it was, we should consider ourselves fortunate and lucky to have heard this, because Sad–Eyed Lonesome Lady is the kind of platter that, if all goes to plan, is going to make Steph Cameron a little less sad–eyed and lonesome when she takes the stage at a concert hall near you. •≈ http://www.popmatters.com/
•≈ Steph Cameron's music and lifestyle seem to echo another time and place. Think of the beatniks in the '50s, hitchhiking and hopping freight freights. Think Greenwich Village circa 1963, and the beginning of the Dylan–fuled folk explosion, or a late '60s commune in northern California perhaps.
•≈ In fact, Steph Cameron and her community of like–minded friends have made their own time and place, right here, right now. They have chosen to share music and ideas around the campfire, or by candlelight within the rural cabins they have built themselves.
•≈ That is the environment that has spawned Sad–Eyed Lonesome Lady, the astonishingly accomplished debut album from Steph Cameron. Out on Pheromone Recordings, it presents the B.C.–based singer/songwriter in an honest and unvarnished setting, showcasing a genuinely exciting new roots music talent. What could be more organic and pure than an album simply comprising voice and guitar (with an occasional judiciously–placed harmonica), recorded to 2–inch tape?
•≈ Sad–Eyed Lonesome Lady was recorded in just three days at elite Toronto studio Revolution Recording this past summer. I nitially, plans were for Steph to lay down just one song, she recalls. “I came to Toronto, met Kim Cooke [head of Pheromone and a partner in Revolution)] for the first time, and we decided to record, mix and master one song, ‘Goodbye Molly,’ as a test run. We had Molly down within a couple of hours so we kept going. We recorded for three consecutive days, finishing all 13 songs on the record. I had made a short trip to Toronto and left with a finished album.”
•≈ Cooke notes that the timing was fortuitous bordering on guided by divine intervention. “All three rooms of the studio were booked solid that month, except for a Monday to Wednesday slot that coincided with Steph being here.” The initial recording template was put in place by Revolution engineer Joe Dunphy, with further recording by Jack Clow. The analog approach perfectly captures the warmth and intimacy of Cameron’s voice and fluent guitar playing. It’s only fitting that a release on vinyl is being planned.•≈ There is an undeniably retro feel to Cameron’s work, but she is certainly not mired in the past. “I’ve been involved in the underground punk and hip hop scenes for years,” she says. “I have always felt an affinity for music that comes from the street or other places of conflict.” She goes on to express a “respect for music that admires the resourcefulness of struggling people and demonstrates a distrust for authority.” Steph acknowledges that her core passion, however, remains “folk and blues music.” This ranges from the country blues of Lightnin’ Hopkins to the bluegrass of Doc Watson to the vintage ’60s folk of Bob Dylan, Dave Van Ronk, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and early Joni Mitchell.
•≈ Hints at these diverse influences can be found on Sad–Eyed Lonesome Lady. •≈ Songs like “Five Dollars,” “Railroad Boy” and “Blues At My Window” have a talking folk–blues feel, while the sensual and bluesy “Poppa You Can Take Me Home” projects a Maria Muldaur vibe. The closing cut, “Many Miles To Go,” is a breezy bluegrass gem. •≈ “Joe Dunphy had a guitar in the studio done up in Nashville tuning, giving it that ethereal tone,” Steph explains. “I used that guitar on the spur of the moment and it worked beautifully.”
•≈ Along with its refreshing eclecticism, the material here has a lovely dynamic range. From the upbeat feel of “Railroad Boy” and “Blues at my Window” (which boasts the memorable lines “I got a heart full of loving and a belly full of gin”) to the quietly sinister “Ellis Pine” and gently compelling “Glory,” Steph explores a vast emotional terrain with convincing skill, thanks to her pure, strong and supple voice.
•≈ Cameron’s crisp and rhythmic playing is another key component to the album. •≈ Self–taught on guitar, she explains that she has made a recent major breakthrough on the instrument. “I have been playing for a decade, but only seriously for the last few years, after a friend gave me a set of metal banjo fingerpicks. I now find guitar interesting, which challenges me to progress and compels me to write songs.”
•≈ Lyrically, Steph’s songs dig deep, drawing upon the experiences and lessons learned from a fascinatingly nomadic and sometimes turbulent lifestyle. Born in Saskatoon, she has since spent time living in East Vancouver, Vancouver Island, and now the Kootenay region of the B.C. interior, as well as logging serious miles traversing the country.
•≈ Her songs also draw inspiration from her circle of close and creative friends. “In some ways, the songs are like a sounding board,” she explains. “I write music as a way of digesting events that have shaped me and my community. A storyteller has to be honest — even, and often especially when that honesty is uncomfortable. Some of the songs on this record are light–hearted and playful, but the songs that are most meaningful for me acknowledge the turbulence in my own life and the lives around me. ” Cameron also finds creative sustenance in living simply, for the last several years in cabins she has built herself. “My dog and I used to live in an 8 by 8 foot shanty I built in the bush on Vancouver Island. In the winter, when the rain would beat down on the tin roof, it sounded like a drum. I wrote ‘Goodbye Molly’ about the rhythm of the rain and the feeling of water rising all around me.”
•≈ “I use oil lamps and candles and heat with a wood stove,” she says. “I’m not a stranger to cities, though. I never have been. The songs on this record concerned with the city recall the sadness and trouble I’ve found there.” As examples, she cites “Glory,” “a song that’s written about the street kids I grew up admiring,” and “Ellis Pine”, “a song,” she describes, “from East Vancouver.”
•≈ For Steph Cameron, music has always been a passion rather than a career choice. •≈ She has performed extensively across Canada, primarily in a very unstructured fashion as a busker . “That’s how I’ve worked my way across Canada for nearly ten years,” she says. “With my friends and our dogs, we hitchhike and ride trains to get into cities. We take over a spot, play music for a week, make enough money to keep going and then move onto the next place.” Busking has helped shape Steph into an engagingly communicative and energetic performer. The shift from busker to recording artist is not one Steph actually pursued or predicted. The catalyst was a friend from Victoria. “He pressured me into making a demo about 18 months ago,” Cameron explains. “I had been playing these songs around the fire and he really enjoyed them so he got after me and we set up a recording date in our friend’s bedroom.” This same friend then gave the resulting demo to Cowboy Junkies bassist Alan Anton, who was highly impressed with what he heard and offered encouraging advice to Cameron. “When Alan contacted me, I had a feeling that this could all get a little more serious than I intended.”
•≈ That first demo then found its way to music industry veteran Kim Cooke at Pheromone Recordings. Knocked out by what he heard, Cooke reached out to Cameron, eventually signing her to the label. “For someone new to this, Steph has incredible instincts and she knows exactly what she wants,” says Kim. “I think she is a unique character who has already led a fascinating life at a young age, and it is on display in her music.” Cameron reflects that “I had a good amount of time and space between hearing from Alan and meeting Kim. I was able to write a lot of material for the record in that time and was able to digest what was going on. This is all about small steps for me. It is not something I was pursuing or felt driven to do. It is just something that has happened, and we’ll see where I take it.”
•≈ Steph Cameron is now gradually surfacing from the underground, but with ideals intact. With Sad–Eyed Lonesome Lady, she is ready to take her eloquent material and compelling voice public on a much wider scale than simply sharing it with friends around the fire or passersby on street corners. For that, we can feel very fortunate.
By Sarah Murphy, Published Sep 15, 2014
|Sad–Eyed Lonesome Lady|