This is The Billie Hollies' first album, and it happened suddenly, or very slowly; it depends who you ask. Singer and main songwriter, Manitoba's Donna Linklater had studied classical music for most of her life until she was given an autoharp in 2008 and started writing songs. Her first one, the plaintive and gorgeous natural epic, "Branch," proved to be an exercise in catharsis, and so she wrote a few more, even though, at the time, she was bandless. Her old friend Janet Morassutti saw Donna play a six-pack of these beautiful songs to a handful of people, and, inspired, she signed on to play guitar, learning as she went. Another old friend, clarinet player Julia Hambleton, though busy with jazz (Runcible Spoon, The Woodshed Orchestra), and frequent guest appearances on recordings (Selina Martin, Bidiniband, Christine Bougie) as well as sitting in for some of Broken Social Scene's most recent tour, joined them on Bb and bass clarinet. New friend and fellow Manitoban Coralie Martens made them a quartet adding French horn, piano and angelic, spot-on backing vocals. And so quickly— or not; again,it depends who you ask—the band was formed. They played a few terrifying shows, but because the songs kept coming, so did the gigs. Once they began recording, they enlisted upright bassist Chris Banks, "Light of Mind's" redoubtable bottom end, to complete the ensemble.
What emerged from the studio is a record that captures one of the country's most distinct new sounds, combining autoharp, clarinet and a supernova of gorgeous singing to find a place where folk noir ("Prairie Crocus") meets an anthem for the land ("Northcross Bay"), not to mention the disco title track and a song about Jimi Hendrix's brain ("Caress This Mess"). The songs get their deep gleam from producer Paul Linklater (Colleen and Paul; Pinecones), and the beautiful package was designed by Grammy Award winning designer Peter Buchanan-Smith (Wilco, David Byrne).
Tom Power of CBC radio's Deep Roots described their sound as "an expression of classic femininity and a kind of eerie beauty." At the Globe and Mail sponsored event "Torn From the Pages" their performance of a suite of songs inspired by Claudia Dey's novel "Stunt" was described by the Torontoist as "...stellar. A spooky, pseudo-circus featuring haunting vibrato harmonies and delicate instruments...the audience was transported someplace darker, weirder and more beautiful than where we began."
The Billie Hollies