The Family Trade is a folk ensemble led by poet-songwriter Brian Laidlaw and rural artist and arts-advocate Ashley Hanson. Raised in rural Minnesota, Ashley is a current Obama Foundation Fellow whose work as a theater-maker and musician has national recognition for its contributions to community-building and economic development in small towns; in addition to playing with the Family Trade, she runs the nonprofit Department of Public Transformation and the site-specific theatre company PlaceBase Productions. After several years on the songwriting faculty at McNally Smith College of Music, California-born Brian Laidlaw is now nearing completion of a Ph.D. in Creative Writing at the University of Denver.
‘Pure Sorrow‘ is not, however, all Laidlaw’s own work – it is taken from the new album ‘This Aster‘, which is a collection of songs inspired by the poems by the French-Canadian poet Emile Nelligan. In a fascinating example of art and life – or lives perhaps would be better – intertwining the story of the recording and of Nelligan’s life have a strange mirror. Nelligan was born in Montreal on Christmas Eve, 1879; he published his first poems at sixteen, and was heralded as a rising star of Canadian literature. The poet produced his entire oeuvre by the age of nineteen, and was then, at twenty, abruptly committed to a mental hospital. Nelligan remained in the asylum for the rest of his life, and never wrote again. A century later, poet-songwriter Brian Laidlaw was offered a Hinge Artist Residency to live and work on the grounds of a different mental hospital – the Kirkbride, in Northern Minnesota – for a stretch of several weeks, translating Nelligan’s poems from French into English, and then setting the texts to music.