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CityFolk Review: Basia Bulat

By Terry Steeves on September 18, 2016

The rain came down like cats and dogs on Saturday night, but that didn’t seem to faze the enormous crowd gathered on the Great Lawn at Cityfolk to see Canadian folk singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Basia Bulat.

Decked out in the same Elvis-inspired gold glitter short cape she wore on her recent album cover, Good Advice, Bulat boarded the stage sporting a bright seafoam green Firebird electric guitar. It was a far cry from the variety of old world stringed instruments I’m used to seeing her play, like the pianoette and the charango. This time, her backing band consisted of a guitar-bass-drums trio, that provided more than an ample amount of power behind her. This was a completely different picture from her opening performance in support of Daniel Lanois last year, where she was backed by the majestic sound of the NAC Orchestra. This time around, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing her material with more of a rock band zest, and the new rock star look suited her to a tee.

Photo by Terry Steeves

Photo by Terry Steeves

She played selections from her past and present work, with one of my favourites from her third album early in the set, “Five Four” (Tall Tall Shadow, 2014). I loved its haunting medieval tone, as her voice climbed and fell through a gorgeous melody. She reached back to her second album to perform its title track, “Heart Of My Own.” Again, it too had a captivating traditional Celtic flavour, rooted in a constant tribal beat, and her powerful sharp voice cut through the air like an exotic ancient reed instrument.

The band left Bulat alone onstage, where she switched to an acoustic to perform another she plucked from her past, “If Only You.” Upbeat and catchy, Bulat’s robust voice and quick rhythmic strumming had a larger-than-life fullness that needed no accompaniment. In “It Can’t Be You,” her finger-picking style matched a bright vocal melody, which from time to time travelled into her remarkably crisp bird-call quality falsetto. She stepped back from the mic to take delight in the audience, whose voices continued the chant, quite impressively.

The band returned to take both Basia and the audience somewhere completely different… into the Gershwin jazz standard classic, “’S Wonderful.” Bulat came out to sit at the front of the stage, uncovered by the canopy, where she joined the audience in the rain. It was certainly wonderful to hear her voice wrapped around this tender jazz melody, and she planted some beautiful long sustains towards the end of the piece that drew a rush of praise from the crowd.

Bulat sat at the piano to play the title track from her fourth and current album, Good Advice, “Which…  I don’t listen to very much,” she quipped. Others from the album included the pop-heavy “Fool,” and the wonderful galloping beat of “Infamous.” These, along with other new tracks are rich in vibrant rhythms, electro-pop flavours, and uplifting melodies, with vocal lines that jump all over the scale. The album reflects her survival through a broken relationship, with words and music that take flight, and reflect an empowering attitude.

At the end of the show, Bulat thanked the crowd for joining her in the rain, and after she said her goodbyes, only a portion scattered to take cover. Many remained still, planted in front of the stage to wait for the next act… Gotta love an Ottawa crowd, we’re a hardy bunch!

Having found a little covered spot to write in the downpour, I realized that some of the best shows I’d ever seen were in the rain… this had definitely been another.

For more info on Basia Bulat, and to purchase her new album, Good Advice, visit www.basiabulat.com.