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Carmen Braden, Ravens

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Robert Rowat

Ravens is the debut album from Yellowknife composer and singer-songwriter Carmen Braden, due out Jan. 20 on Centrediscs.

The first thing to know about Ravens is that it crosses genre boundaries, bringing together chamber compositions and original songs. In addition to writing all this diverse music over the past 12 years, Braden sings and plays guitar, piano and organ.

"The unifying element is my voice," she told us via email. "Also, the intimate, close-mic studio method of recording was deliberately used on all the tracks, including the instrumental compositions." It's an unconventional approach for the chamber music, but it works and helps the different styles coexist on the same album. Producer Mark Adam also plays a number of instruments on several tracks.

Joining Braden and Adam are Andrea Bettger, Osmond Chiu and Kathryn Oraas (violin), Anne-Marie Guedon (cello), Sean Robson (double bass), Mary Kelly (piano), Greyson Gritt (guitar), Rick Spinney (banjo), Pat Braden (electric bass and Chapman stick) and the Raven Singers.

Braden has written music for violinist James Ehnes, the Elmer Iseler Singers, the Gryphon Trio and the Penderecki Quartet, to name a few. A lifelong northerner who describes herself as an acoustic ecologist, Braden references the sonic environment, both natural and man-made, in most of her compositions. Not surprisingly, many of the titles on Ravens refer to winter.

We asked Braden to give us a track-by-track guide:

1. 'Good Friends and Pretty Roads'

"My voice, accompanied by my simple guitar, opens the album. The song was written about moving through life with someone and realizing we are going to part ways, but wishing the best for each other. The gentle, rocking guitar and tambourine and drums provide the feeling of the road moving under the feet."

2. 'Candle Ice' (excerpt)

"An excerpt from one of my piano trios and field recordings of lake ice. Evoking ice shards melting on a lake near Yellowknife, it is a glimpse into the cool/warm, grit/clear, old/new feeling of spring in the subarctic. The field recordings of the crystalline ice shards of the spring melt shift from sounds of ice to sounds of water, following the transition of the lake surface from solid to shattered to liquid. Originally written for the Gryphon Trio."

3. 'First Snowfall'

"The cold, electronic drum-and-bass feel runs under strings, hammond organ, synths and a voice that seems to plead and question and then quietly declare simple truths. A song about encountering the chaos of the world, and hoping to find answers in something as simple as a snowfall."

4. 'Magnetic North'

"For violin and piano, about the power of attraction of the North, the magnetic North Pole, and the intriguing properties of magnets themselves. An underlying idea of my family’s journey to the North over 50 years ago was also incorporated, and by extension my own personal continuing draw to the North. Originally written for James Ehnes and Andrew Armstrong."

5. 'Fall to Alaska'

"Layers of voices sing about the risks you must take to possibly realize potential. Mountains and borders, found inside and outside the self."

6. 'Ice Worms'

"Over a soundscape of under-ice recordings of Great Slave Lake, a capella voices tell a quirky story in angular harmonies about small creatures that thrive in the cold. The hydrophonic field recordings give a glimpse of the beautiful, rich acoustic world of booming and cracking lake ice in the deep winter."

7. 'Winter Lullaby'

"A lullaby sung to a sleeping winter lake, locked under ice and snow. The piano plays jazz-influenced harmonies and I sing a lyrical melody, promising the colours and warmth that comes with the release of spring."

8. 'Follow'

"An expansive and ever-growing sound voyage evoking the give and take of a relationship. Originally inspired by the challenges of a long-distance relationship. 'I’ll let you come with me, if you’ll let me follow you.'"

9. The Raven Conspiracy: II. 'Waltz of Wing and Claw'

"The second movement of the string quartet The Raven Conspiracy. This movement evokes a group of ravens playing in the wind. Suspending, swooping down, rising up, flipping upside-down and tangling their claws. A dance in the up-drafts."

10. 'North, Love'

"An improvisation with producer Mark Adam on piano and myself singing. Many songs transformed during the recording process. This song embodies the process of collaboration, and the spirit of creative sharing and strength and love that comes from making music together."

11. 'Small Town Song'

“'I’m a small town at the end of a long road.' This line can describe many communities in Canada, including my hometown of Yellowknife, N.W.T. And this song is a celebration of the joys and oddities that are part of small towns. A group of close friends and family join in singing the chorus, and the banjo playing of Nova Scotia’s Rick Spinney brings the album and the journey to an end."

Ravens will be released on Jan. 20. You can pre-order the album here. There will be an official album release concert on Jan. 24 at the National Music Centre in Calgary, Alta.

Yellowknife composer Carmen Braden draws from the environment by examining natural phenomena through sonic, visual, sensual and scientific ways of understanding.

Carmen Braden describes herself as an acoustic ecologist and all her music references the sonic environment, both natural and man-made. (Dave Brosha)

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