There’s something about Manitoba; it’s not the largest Canadian province, nor the most populous, but something in the air or the water or the quality of the light seems to create a terroir ((That one’s for you, Eli!)) that informs and supports the growth of great musicians. Is it the long Winters, or the support of amazing organizations like Music Manitoba, or some other, less tangible factor? I don’t know, but somehow Manitobans seem to consistently delight me.
I first heard Manitoban/Montrealler Claire Morrison at the Folk Music Ontario conference this past Autumn; I was part of a panel called Demo Derby, where artists bring a demo of a song and, on a first-come-first-served basis, a group of music industry professionals listen and give their critical opinion of the writing, playing, and production. It’s consistently one of my favourite sessions, and one I’ve always made a point to attend in the past. It takes a lot of courage on the part of the artists who submit their work, but the feedback is invaluable, and the artists who attend are generally people you’re going to hear from again.
Claire’s track, Falling In, stood out immediately. I hate comparing artists to other, better-known artists, but it really struck me that she’s got a bit of a Royal Wood musicality to some of her writing, and on that track in particular, though I think Claire’s lyrics are stronger and more literate. ((Sorry, Royal! But anyway, RW fans should definitely check Claire’s music out, because I think you’d really like it.)) At the same time, her voice brings to mind some of the great female vocalists. That’s not to say that she sounds like anyone else, however: if there’s one really striking thing about her, I’d say it’s how distinct, unique, and unified her performance is.
On her debut EP, Here’s to You, Here’s to Me, ((Buy it at the link!)) she writes and performs like an artist with decades of artistic experience, rather than someone in their early twenties. You immediately get the sense that, both as an artist and a person, she has a very strong sense of self, and an acute ability to observe her experiences and translate them into spare, hummable songs. There’s a dark flavour to her writing, underscored by the instrumentation of her recordings, that gives each song a cinematic feel and takes them out of the easy pigeonholes that most writers fall into – Love Song, Breakup Song, etc.
Even more than that, there’s her voice; it strikes you immediately as being so assured, so much an instrument under her control, that it belies her age. It’s smooth and smoky and mellow; it calmly gives you hope while delivering sad news. Unlike a lot of young performers, she’s past the stage of trying out different inflections; she isn’t trying to sound like anyone but Claire Morrison, and while her writing and delivery may bring a lot of other, established and well-loved performers to mind, it’s never derivative. Morrison’s musical vocabulary is well-rounded, but her assurance and sense of self really raise her up above other good artists and put her in the company of the greats.
I’m sorry to harp on about her youth, but it really is striking that this music is coming from someone in their early twenties, and I look forward to hearing where she’ll go from here.
I couldn’t find any recent videos of her performing solo, but here’s one of Claire performing as part of a duo, Fire and Smoke, that highlights her voice nicely. And bonus points for being in French!