Though Basia Bulat has just four albums to her credit so far (2007’s Oh My Darling, 2010’s Heart of My Own, 2013’s Tall Tall Shadow and 2016’s Good Advice), she’s such an accomplished and commanding songwriter that it’s almost impossible to choose her 10 best songs. But, we love a challenge, so we've persevered!
It’s also no accident that more than half of the videos below feature Bulat's acoustic renditions; the songs themselves are so perfect, and her performance so unaffected, that both stand on their own just beautifully.
Below you’ll find CBC Music hosts and producers’ picks for the 10 best Bulat songs. Please tell us on Twitter at @cbcradio3 or @cbcmusic what you think of the list and about your favourite Basia Bulat tracks.
‘Paris or Amsterdam’
Basia's song is about the loss of her friend, but Basia is an intensely private person, like most exceptional soul-baring songwriters are so I don't want to get much into her own personal reflection. However if you've ever experienced loss, you know there's this denial: you don't really want to believe they're gone. More importantly you can't believe they're gone; they must be out for dinner, on vacation, but they'll come back someday...right?
“You’re still travelling
You could be in Paris, or in Amsterdam
All this time
Come to my mind, come to my mind”
— Tom Power
‘La La Lie’
Lots of artists have lie-themed songs, but this is one of the better songs about deception, Bulat's song is all at once catchy, well-written, and most of all, true. The song that starts off Bulat's incredibly strong 2016 album Good Advice, it lets no one off the hook, not even Bulat. A mess of keys, kickass lyrics and a voice that's smooth and strong as a good cup of espresso, "La La Lie" deserves another thousand listens.
— Nicolle Weeks
"Am I still your fool? I'm still your fool," Basia sings, her voice on the brink of breaking as she answers her own question while simultaneously revealing the source of her torment. What an ingenious way to tell someone you're still in love with them, someone who not only broke your heart but, I'm presuming, humiliated you. But that's not even the best part about this song. I love that it could have easily been a somber, heartbroken ballad — perhaps something more in line with early Leonard Cohen — but instead it's this lush, soulful, gospel-tinged pop song.
— Jesse Kinos-Goodin
‘In the Night’
This song is one of the myriad reasons why I quickly fell in love with Bulat’s 2007 debut album, Oh, My Darling. A jubilant parade of pianos, marching drums and Bulat’s signature instrument, the autoharp, “In the Night” highlights the singer-songwriter’s ability to craft a great catchy melody which she delivers with the most joyous, heartfelt vocals that can soar all the way into the stars.
— Melody Lau
‘Tall Tall Shadow’
There is so much urgency and hope in this song. Like a spark becoming a fire and growing into an inferno, shadows stretch into nothingness as the light consumes the dark, Bulat’s voice charting upwards and onwards, stewarding survival. “You can’t run away/ if the shadow is yours,” she sings, full of gentle wisdom and frank observation, knowing all too well the ways in which we seek shelter from realness.
— Andrea Warner
‘It Can’t Be You’
Tall Tall Shadow can be hope-rendering or heart-shattering depending on where you sit on the heartbreak spectrum, but when I first heard the singer's third album, the song "It Can't be You" broke me to pieces. "I never dreamed that you would be the one/ to shoot me down so soon./ Oh no, no no/ it can't be you," Bulat sings, throwing her voice in such a powerful way that you literally can't do anything but listen until she's finished speaking her truth. With just a ukulele, that voice and fewer than five minutes, "It Can't be You" breaks down Bulat's magic to the essentials.
— Holly Gordon
‘Heart of My Own’
"Heart of My Own" was the title track off Bulat’s 2010 record. It was inspired in part by a trip she took up to the Yukon while she participated at the Dawson City Music Festival and would also have a pretty big impact on her for writing a lot of the rest of the record. One of my favourite songs of hers that paints an incredible picture of her singing next to a fire, in the vast landscape of the north.
— Matthew Fisher
‘Let Me In’
Over the course of the song, as a listener you realize that it's not the Bulat's seemingly pleading character that you should feel sorry for. Instead light a candle for the hopeless sap who doesn't realize what they have: a person who wants to be with them but isn't going to wait forever. Bulat's strong and confident vocal performance is the highlight of this clever gem of a tune.
— Judith Lynch
‘Before I Knew’
What a way to kick off a debut album. "Before I Knew" starts like a tossed off ukulele jam. But 1:13 later the challenge has been laid. Follow me, listen. This will be an album and a career about exploring life in every way — the tall shadows as well as the rich joys. Basia's pure voice sings about the Blakean journey from innocence to experience poignantly, but it's not nostalgic. She's been aroused by love, she's found music, but as she sings — "before I knew it I was prisoner" — she’s enslaved by the very things that provide the greatest joy in life. She captures the universal struggle directly. And the sparse arrangement perfectly underlines the simple magnitude of this song. We're all fighting our own emotional battles, but in this song, Basia is our voice.
— Reuben Mann
This song has been killing me since I first heard it, at the Vancouver Folk Fest last year when Bulat was previewing her forthcoming album, Good Advice. “Trying to forget and you revive/ Every part of me I buried alive,” Bulat sings, cutting so close to the bone with the push-pull of heartbreak, the safe spaces we try to make when we are coming undone. “I can hold on to some time for you/ Call me when you got the time.” And yet there’s so much strength in the generosity of her offer. This isn’t a wistful imbalance, a plea for recognition or something to be reclaimed upon being cast aside. No, this is someone standing just fine on her own, who’s graciously offering some space on her own conditions, who perhaps is stronger after the breaking, a truth that very few songs articulate.