Debut album continues great tradition of Canadian singer/songwriters.
‘Concrete Country’ is Canadian Madelyn Read’s debut album. It is a great start. Reed uses the sounds of country and folk to tell vivid stories of urban life. While her bio says that “Though she may have spent her whole life in the city of Vancouver BC, Madelyn’s heart is in the rural tales of Folk/Americana music”, her work is much more interesting than that implies. While country and folk is often considered rural music, ‘Concrete Country’ uses those familiar sounds to take us into the city. It is a wonderful example of grafting new perspectives onto folk and country roots. Reed reminds us that it is the stories not the instruments or arrangement that give songs authenticity, that country doesn’t need dogs or pickup trucks, and folk music is really about folks.
Read leads off with ‘Helen’s’, evoking a much-loved flower shop, the small businesses around it that make a neighbourhood a community and the price of development. The album continues with images and stories of Vancouver. Listening to ‘Petrichor’, you can almost smell the wet sidewalks and streets after a rain. ‘Succession’ could only have been written by someone who grew up in the same city as their parents. ‘Are We Blue’ is a ballad about the challenge of a city’s ambient light.
The final song is ‘Concrete Country’ which can be read in two ways; urban country music or a countryside made of concrete. She challenges the listener to contrast the urban reality with the pastoral dream; “If you build it up and you tear it down, And if you find that broken crown, Will the wilderness be really what you need? This is Concrete Country.”
This is a Vancouver album. It was recorded and mixed there. Read mentions English Bay, 12th and Main, the Cascade and Robson Street, firmly placing her stories in real places, and making Vancouver her city in the way Ralph McTell makes London his in ‘Streets of London’.
But ‘Concrete Country’ isn’t just a paeon to a place. Read uses her exceptionally clear voice and impressive musical ability to tell stories about identity, love and longing. And the sound of the album is exceptional. Read is backed by an accomplished group of musicians that add fiddle, pedal and lap steel guitar, and piano to acoustic guitar; creating a production that is well-balanced and a near-perfect background for the lyrics.
The orchestration enhances and clarifies the meaning of the words. Each song has its own identity, Read is careful to match the sound to the mood. The violin in ‘What I Know Now’ matches the longing in the song. The old-timey sound underscores the lessons of ‘Waltz on Robson’.
In ‘Concrete Country’ Read adds to the chain of Canadian musicians who have contributed so much to Americana; including Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Buffy St. Marid and Gordon Lightfoot. Keep an ear out for more from Read, it will be worth it.