Abigail Lapell’s Anniversary

cover,  AnniversaryI haven’t closely followed Canadian singer-songwriter and indie folk artist Abigail Lapell, but I very much enjoyed her earlier album Getaway. Her emotionally direct but never overwrought lyrics, sturdy melodies, her unique voice and superb guitar fingerpicking style all added up to a winning package. On Anniversary, her sixth release, all of those elements are still in place along with an even greater emotional maturity and some fine folk-rock arrangements thanks to the presence of co-producer Tony Dekker (Great Lake Swimmers) and a gaggle of excellent musicians who support Lapell.

Anniversary is an album full of love songs and a certain amount of introspection as Lapell hits her 40s and ponders time, the past and the future, the present, and loved ones alive and ghostly. To me, the most immediately engaging tracks are “Rattlesnake,” and ‘Flowers In My Hair.” Both draw on repetitive rhythms and words, some call and response, and simple arrangements.

“Rattlesnake” finds her in old time mode, finger picking an intricate pattern on her big hollow bodied electric guitar, accompanied mostly just by bass, bass drum, stomps and claps (from superb drummer Jake Oelrichs), and backing voices making the song something of a round. The first time you hear the song, you swear you’ve heard it before, an old Appalachian or maybe Quebecois tune just made for singing around a campfire: Bring me water, bring me wine / Bring me flower garlands
Will you be my valentine / Would you be my darling?

“Flowers In My Hair” is even more simply set with just vocals and body percussion — stomps and claps. I’m immediately reminded of ’60s folk chanteuse Melanie:

“I don’t have a thing to wear
I got flowers in my hair
I don’t have a thing to do
But lay all day in the sun with you.”

Both were probably influenced by her work as a preschool music teacher — the singsong nature of the song, its strong rhythms and deceptively simple lyrics. “Songs are a mnemonic, and a repository of cultural memory,” she says.

“Wait Up” finds her strumming her guitar, distorted in Neil Young mode, with a rocking riff and deep groove from bass and drums. In content it’s a modern folk rock epic about a love that’s so wrong it’s right. “Anniversary,” which opens the album, is a pure lilting love song with all kinds of interesting symbolism and imagery, delivered in Abigail’s higher register.

There are somber moments too, like the incantatory, piano-driven “Footsteps,” inspired by her mother’s recurring dream about her late father; the recording sessions marked the fifteenth anniversary of his passing.

Speaking of fellow Canadian Neil Young, the country waltz “Blue Blaze” sounds like a Harvest outtake, with Abigail bending harmonica notes and some sweet pedal steel. There’s not a less-than-stellar song on Anniversary, whether gorgeous love songs like “Stars” or mournful explorations of bad decisions like “3am.” Recorded in a historic church next to a cemetery (200-year-old St. Mark’s in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario), the album has a lovely ambience that fits these songs, whether simple ballads or bluesy folk rockers. Evocative lyrics, varied arrangements, understated playing, and Abigail Lapell’s impressive songwriting chops: highly recommended.

(Outside Music, 2024)

Gary Whitehouse

A fifth-generation Oregonian, Gary is a retired journalist and government communicator. Since the 1990s he has been covering music, books, food & drink and occasionally films, blogs and podcasts for Green Man Review. His main literary interests for GMR are science fiction, music lore, and food & cooking. A lifelong lover of music, his interests are wide ranging and include folk, folk rock, jazz, Americana, classic country, and roots based music from all over the world. He also enjoys dogs, birding, cooking, craft beer, and coffee.

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