Cara Luft, all earth mother on her twelve-speed bike, helmet, backpack, environmentally friendly and wholesome, ebullient and engaging; and burly JD Edwards looking like a cross between a biker and long-haul trucker in scruffy beard, ball cap, t-shirt and jean jacket, slightly intimidating (until you meet him). At first glance few would peg them for a highly creative musical partnership. And yet these two veteran Canadian singer/songwriters, with a dozen critically-acclaimed albums between them, have recently teamed up to form a dynamic new duo, The Small Glories.
Juno Award winner Cara Luft has earned a solid reputation as an exciting live performer, accomplished guitarist (she has been invited to perform at the prestigious UK International Guitar Festival), clawhammer banjo player, and insightfully honest songwriter. Her style of presentation combines her appealingly infectious personality and wild sense of humour with mesmerizing songcraft. As Former AD of the Winnipeg Folk Festival Rick Fenton points out, “Cara’s voice, songwriting, guitar playing, energy, passion, fire, sense of humor, and zest for life make her a great addition to any festival lineup.” Popmatters notes, “Luft is the perfect blend of lightness and gutsy rock chick,” while Wildy’s World describes her as “a master songwriter and performer.”
Fronting the JD Edwards Band since 2006, JD is a versatile singer/songwriter who has earned praise far and wide for his down home, straightforward songwriting style and superb vocal ability in a variety of genres, from country and blues to folk and rock. A rivetingly energetic live performer and prolific songwriter, JD is a seasoned road warrior. “He’s one for the books,” notes Richard Flohil, “a great talent and a lovely guy.” No frills, JD is the real deal.
It’s a case of 1 + 1 = 3.
Their initial union came rather serendipitously. Residing in Winnipeg, each was aware of the other but it took venerated venue The West End Cultural Centre’s 25th anniversary event in October 2012 to bring them together. “The concept was to pair up artists who didn’t really know each other or hadn’t played with each other,” JD explains, “and do a song neither had ever performed before.” The two chose a song by Nova Scotia-born, Winnipeg-based singer/songwriter Greg McPherson, 1000 Stars. “We started rehearsing together,” recalls Cara, “and there was a moment when I realized this was what I’d been dreaming of and longing for for years; the way our voices fit together was incredible. I’m pretty sure I actually screamed ‘Holy s**t!’ from excitement.”
The seeds of collaboration had been planted. However, individual commitments (many tours for Cara while JD continued working with his band as well as with Dry Bones, a collaboration with The Duhks’ Leonard Podolak) prevented the two from working together until the following year. Returning from a successful European tour promoting her recent album Darlingford, Cara found herself awarded with free recording time at a new analog studio in Kelowna, BC. She instantly thought of JD. “I had to use the time or lose it, but I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to say. I didn’t have a story to tell. I had hit a wall.” Writing and recording 2012’s Darlingford was a difficult experience for Cara, coming to terms with the breakup of a longtime relationship. The pain of betrayal informed much of the album’s songs. She needed to change gears. “As an artist you can’t keep spinning your wheels,” she stresses. “You need to progress. I had been slogging it for several years and the progress had been incremental. Music had become a bit gruelling. I didn’t chose this musical path to become a superstar, but longevity and sustainability are important, and there’s of course the passion card.” Working with JD became the catalyst for that gear change. “Initially, I wanted to hire JD to sing and play on the album, but when we started rehearsing together I realized this was the direction and the story, and I didn’t want to pass it up. I fell in love with music all over again, something I hadn’t experienced in awhile.” The two began recording together and were immediately struck by the results.
“JD put his stamp on my songs and I put my stamp on his,” says Cara. “Then there are traditionals and covers that we melded together.” As for JD, “Cara brings a lot of great arranging to my music and more spirituality, along with a lot more of a folk influence. I think she also brings a lot of love to my music. It’s always important for artists to put themselves in awkward positions to challenge themselves, to explore themselves. That’s where the real art comes from, from figuring out how to come out of those situations, pushing yourself into a different realm of creativity and coming out of it empowered and excited. That’s what we’re doing.”
Songs like Home (a collaboration between Cara, JD and Lewis Melville) and Woody Guthrie’s Way Over Yonder, both featuring Cara’s clawhammer banjo, have a warm, simple homespun charm to them, like old friends singing and playing together. Others, like Fast Turning World (by Cara, JD and Belly Hardy) and JD’s Had I Paid with its fiddle accompaniment are powerful musical statements as is the funky traditional Elizabethan-inspired Wondrous Traveller.
“I really get off working with people who can actually sing,” JD admits. “Singers who can make me move. I thought it was amazing for me to sing with a female voice. And her songs are fantastic. So when we got together it felt right. I just felt like this was the path I should be going on.” As the two got to know one another they discovered their families had a connection. “It’s kind of weird,” notes JD. “Our paths have crossed in ways we never realized until we started talking about it. There is this unspoken bond between us.”
The Small Glories has allowed Cara to finally put the long shadow of The Wailin’ Jennys behind her. “The Jennys was a very beautiful project but a bit too delicate and pretty,” she muses. “I’ve grown up since then and I’ve come to terms with why I’m still following this path ten years later. We created very sweet-sounding music, but this new project with JD is more gutsy and honest and representative of who I am. Plus I’m continually challenged as a singer working with JD.”
JD joined Cara for several dates on her summer 2014 western Canadian tour and longtime fans were elated with the combination of talents deeming these performances the finest shows Cara has ever done. The two also enjoyed travelling together. “I was having so much fun on the tour,” boasts Cara. “And we get along so well. There’s no weirdness. He’s like the brother I never had.” The two have a natural rapport. “I think she’s a little crazier than I am,” smiles JD.
Make no mistake, The Small Glories is no one-off flash in the pan. “We could easily continue going our own separate ways as artists and be fine,” Cara acknowledges, “but doing this together right now is far better. It’s all about being fulfilled in life and I’m very happy with this combination. It’s truly a partnership of equals. There’s something about the blending of our voices and the music that we make together that’s like nothing else I’ve done, and I want to keep doing it. I’m excited about what the future holds for us as a duo.”
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