Darkness and light are key sonic, lyrical and visual components of Basia Bulat’s new album, Tall Tall Shadow. There’s the striking black-and-white imagery of the CD cover, the imaginatively contrasting musical shadings, and the soul-searching lyrics reflecting on recent loss.

The result is a compelling third full-length album from the Toronto-based singer-songwriter, one being warmly embraced right out of the starting gate by both her loyal – and growing – international fan base and the critics. At press time, noted British newspaper The Independent had just named “Tall Tall Shadow” one of their Three Songs of the Week. “I’m there with Bruce Springsteen and Leonard Cohen songs,” says Bulat. “I could do a lot worse!”

Tall Tall Shadow showcases Bulat’s transition from folk music to a more textured and contemporary sound. “I have changed, my life has changed, so I think it’s a natural progression in terms of the sounds and the production,” she says. “This record is less directly rooted in roots music. I still feel like I’m coming from that tradition, but it is definitely pushing that boundary.”

Assisting this evolution were her co-producers, Grammy Award-winning engineer Mark Lawson (The Suburbs, Colin Stetson) and Arcade Fire’s Tim Kingsbury. “I think the focus between the three of us was, ‘What is the best way to tell the story in this song?’” Bulat explains. “We tried many different ways of arranging different songs. Sometimes that was with a full band, or sometimes just one instrument and the vocal.”

The songs on the album range from the full-blooded feel of the title track and “Never Let Me Go” to the sparse setting of “It Can’t Be You” (vocals and charango only) and “Paris or Amsterdam” (voice and keyboards only).

“I wanted to see what happened if I started writing from a really uncensored or direct place.”

Bulat’s songwriting also took a different turn this time. “I had a whole bunch of songs written, but I scrapped them after many changes in my life,” she says. “I was going through a period of loss, and they were just not feeling right to me. I just wanted something very intuitive. I wanted to see what happened if I started writing from a really uncensored or direct place.”

Via an early deal with famed U.K. label Rough Trade, Bulat quickly gained a European following, while a Polaris Prize shortlist nod (for 2007’s Oh, My Darling) and JUNO Award nomination (for 2010’s Heart of My Own) helped spread the word domestically.

Bulat is proud of her Polish heritage (she chose the Polish Combatants Association Hall in Toronto as the venue for a three-night stand in October), and she cites performances in that country as a career highlight. “That is awesome,” she says. “So much fun! They’re so patient there with my terrible Polish. I have been slowly trying to work on an album in Polish, too.”

Her love of music, and talent for it, has deep family roots. “My mom played classical music and taught classical piano and guitar,” she says. “My grandmother always sang Polish carols and songs, and she and my great uncle had perfect harmony when they sang together.”

Basia’s brother, Bobby Bulat, is a skilled drummer who has long been part of her band, while her mother was always supportive of their passion for music. “My mother always got it,” she says. “She was the one figuring out how to get tickets to punk rock shows for Bobby!”

Bulat began playing piano at three, and honed her vocal and musical talents at school. “I sang in the school choir and was in youth orchestra and youth band,” she recalls. Later studies in English literature and writing at the University of Western Ontario in London also had an impact.

And her skill as a multi-instrumentalist is now put to good use. At her recent Toronto concerts, Bulat played piano, keyboards, autoharp and dulcimer, as well as guitar. She jokingly told the audience, “I used to be a real folkie, then I got all these guitar pedals I don’t know how to use.”

Secret City Publishing/Ptak Music
Discography: Basia Bulat (EP, 2005), Oh, My Darling (2007), Heart of My Own (2010), Tall Tall Shadow (2013)
SOCAN Member since 2008
Visit www.basiabulat.com

Sometimes a single song will lead to a whole new album. Such was the case for Michel Rivard with “Roi de rien” (“King of Nothing”), whose words and music aligned themselves so easily in the songwriter’s mind that he could clearly see there was far more to come, a daunting prospect for an artist who was feeling somewhat spent after completing his second season as in-house songwriting teacher for the popular Star Académie reality show, writing songs for the Filles de Caleb folk opera and making a comeback as a stage actor.

“I felt over-stretched,” Rivard explained. “After that mad rush, I was hoping things would slow down awhile. But no, the song “Roi de rien” came to me all in one piece, very much inspired by my daily walks in my new neighbourhood of Plateau Mont-Royal, which I love for its cozy lanes and beautiful trees. This new tune was telling me, ‘I’m the opening song of a new series!’ This all had something to do with my moving back into the city and my desire to reconnect with the Montrealer in me.” For the next two years, Rivard was busy writing, composing and planning intimate concerts in small venues to test his new material. As the lyrics of his song “Et on avance” say, “Tomorrow never is what we thought it would be.”

This applies to the title song of Rivard’s new album, Roi de rien, for if Rivard were king, he would be the king of the intimate, of life’s little things and of acute observations that make one smile. “Styromousse,” a song about a man who leaves a city the same way he would break up with a woman, is a case in point. Rivard agrees that, in real life, he is not the King of Nothing his album is portraying. “You’re right,” he says, “I’m not referring to myself specifically in that song, but using the first person inclusively. I’ve always been fascinated by the infinitely small, by the minutiae of interpersonal relationships. When I came up with the expression ‘king of nothing,” I had no idea of what the rest of the song was going to be about. But, for me, these words expressed the comforting thought of having no responsibilities, of placing oneself above no-one and of not feeling the crushing weight of power. That was reassuring. The connecting dots of the song are that one can feel happy about a radio that’s gone dead and enjoy the silence, and that looking at the rain through your kitchen window can help you see the reality of your life. It’s far from being depressing.”

Wherever he is, Michel Rivard is busy writing music at some level, whether he is walking his dog with his recorder or repeatedly sending himself text message reminders of the words and phrases that go through his mind as he goes about his daily activities. Born in the 1950s, Rivard writes songs the way a novelist creates stories, but without giving way to soul-searching, and always remaining aware of the fine line that exists between private information and public knowledge – even in art.

“Yes, my repertoire includes a few songs that are definitely about me, such as “Toujours pour elles,” which deals with my love for my daughters, but I would be unable to write a song containing painful admissions about myself. It’s not my bag. What I like to do is create small pieces of fiction rather than documentaries. Plus, the moment you start looking for rhymes, you change parts of the puzzle and move even further away from real-life situations.” Rivard keeps writing his way into those magic moments where phrases scribbled in a notebook naturally fall into the lyrics of a new song, when words and music coalesce and an alternate entity suddenly appears. “Yes, you can use tips – writing is a craft – but it is also true that part of the process cannot be explained. And nobody can teach you that.”

The idea for the setup of the upcoming recording of Roi de rien came to Rivard as he was performing a country music version of his song “Maudit Bonheur” (Damned Happiness”) with the Mountain Daisies. “For the recording of L’Open Country de Mountain Daisies,” the artist recalls, we all performed live in the Piccolo Studios as if we were onstage. I wanted to reproduce this experience.” To obtain the particular sound he was after, Rivard hired producer Éric Goulet and spent ten days in the studio with his Flybin Band cohorts (Rick Haworth, Mario Légaré, Sylvain Clavette), recording all 15 songs programmed songs. “We often laid down two full tracks in a single day,” Michel Rivard boasts about the recording of his 13th album, a collection of hopeful and insightful songs by a creative giant whose unshakeable artistic integrity remains a shining beacon of our musical landscape.

The sixth annual Drummondville Poutine Festival, which runs August 22-24, 2013, will feature two of Quebec’s favourite staples – music and poutine! Who came up with this winning combo? No less than Les Trois Accords, Quebec’s zaniest group, known and beloved by countless fans for lyrics that break taboos with generous servings of humour, and for their lively country-pop music. An article published in 2005 in the French edition of Words & Music, Paroles & Musique, on these emerging musicians’ career was presciently entitled “The Recipe of their Success!”

All natives of the Drummondville area, each of the group’s four musicians – Simon Proulx, Alexandre Parr, Charles Dubreuil and Pierre-Luc Boisvert – has a specific role to play when the group starts working on a new album or getting ready for the upcoming festival. SOCAN External Representative Michel Giguère, from the Montreal Office, remembers meeting them for the first time in 2008: “Their studio was not far from the Montreal Botanical Garden at that time,” says Giguère. “They were really nice guys. I had previously spoken with Charles Ouellette, their agent, and I was also able to explain several aspects of copyright and performing right licences to Simon Proulx during a SOCAN No. 1 Song Award presentation. They certainly did not hesitate to buy their licences for Tariff 4.A.1 – Popular Music Concerts!” Added Michel: “My kids and I are great fans. We saw them perform live in Châteauguay. We were near the stage. It was a great evening!”

Besides all the food- and drink-tasting activities that are organized in celebration of the world-famous dish of poutine, which Drummondwille proudly claims as a local invention, the 2013 Poutine Festival menu will be replete concerts featuring major SOCAN artists, including Groenland, Radio Radio, Lisa LeBlanc, Les Sœurs Boulay, Karim Ouellet, Les Cowboys fringants, the children’s favourite Arthur l’aventurier, Chantal Archambault, Cœur de pirate and Quebec superstar Robert Charlebois, all in the Drummondville’s magnificent Woodyatt Park. For more information on this event, which will be going green this year by using compostable plates, visit www.festivaldelapoutine.com.