Monday, February 28, 2011

Mae Moore – Folklore

Poetical License

Mae Moore started out as a young singer-songwriter on the folk scene and went on to achieve some significant commercial success – both as a recording and performing artist in her own right and as a songwriter for others – in the 1990s. She retreated from the pop circuit years ago and now makes music on her own terms from her home base on the Gulf Islands in B.C. where she also paints and does organic farming. Several of Mae’s paintings are featured in the CD Digipak and booklet and she has recently released a companion art book also called Folklore.

When Mae mentioned to me a few months ago that she had a new album called Folklore in the works, I imagined that it would be a collection of traditional folksongs that she would put her personal stamp on. But, as it turns out, when she refers to folklore, it is to her own, personal folklore – or that of the other people who inhabit her songs. “You’re the author of your own folklore,” she sings to the protagonist in the title song.

While Folkore is certainly rooted in a contemporary folk approach, it’s also equally rooted in jazz. The acoustic guitar or dulcimer she plays signals the folk base while the musical exploration and some of the instrumental colouring suggest jazz. Several tracks feature Daniel Lapp playing Flumpet, a recent hybrid horn that blends elements of a flugelhorn and trumpet. His playing on “Tom Thomson’s Mandolin” is kind of bluesy in a Davisonian kind of way. Other jazz musicians featured on several tracks each include Scott Sheerin on soprano sax and Marc Atkinson on guitar. Producer Joby Baker is heard on various instruments on most songs.

While I generally avoid comparisons with other artists, there are several obvious parallels here with Joni Mitchell. Mae and Mitchell both use open tunings on the guitar and dulcimer, both blend folk and jazz influences, and both integrate music and painting in their personal art. Which is not to say that Mae’s music is derivative of Mitchell’s; it’s just that the parallels are interesting.

Among my favourite songs is “Tom Thomson’s Mandolin,” which describes the Group of Seven artist’s devotion to his art and to the natural wilderness beauty of Algonquin Park, where he died in unknown circumstances in 1917 at the age of 39. I’m not sure if the references to his mandolin playing are true or based on if they’re Mae’s poetic license, but, if true, I guess that makes him a musical and artistic ancestor to Mae and Mitchell.

Another favourite is the dulcimer-based “Oh, Canada,” a heartfelt tribute to the landscape of this vast country of ours (although, to avoid confusion, I wish it didn’t have the same title as our national anthem).

--Mike Regenstreif