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Album Review: Belle Plaine – Malice, Mercy, Grief & Wrath

Artist: Belle Plaine

Album: Malice, Mercy, Grief & Wrath

Year: 2018

Label: Independent

Genre: Canadian Country, Americana, Swing-Jazz, Folk

Belle Plaine is a singer/songwriter raised in the  Canadian prairies near Fosston, Saskatchewan, Canada. If you thought you grew up in a small town, Fosston has a staggering population of just 45 people. Produced by Jason Plumb [Colter Wall, The Dead South], Malice, Mercy, Grief & Wrath is Plaine’s third full-length album and with it, she has crafted for herself a unique brand of roots music that pleasantly combines features from classic country, folk, swing, and jazz.

Photo Credit: Carey Shaw

With her small town, country lifestyle playing a part in what is now her current sound, it has also undoubtedly played a substantial role in her songwriting. Each of the nine songs on this album has incredibly intricate lyrics that paint a vivid image in your mind. With her tender voice and bewildering vibrato, these timeless songs haunt you to the very core.

In 2015, Plaine lent her voice to another Saskatchewan native Colter Wall for a track on his debut album, Imaginary Appalachia. “Caroline” just so happens to be my favourite song on that album as her harmonies are absolutely stunning. Wall, in return, has lent his voice to my favourite track on this album, “Is It Cheating.” In 2016 and 2017 some of her work was arranged for an orchestra, and she did three performances with the Regina Symphony Orchestra. Plaine is certainly no stranger to collaborations as Malice, Mercy, Grief & Wrath features two more Saskatchewan artists along with Wall. Megan Nash on “Golden Ring” the separation song with the tongue in cheek music video of found footage wedding clips, and Kacy Anderson of Canadian duo Kacy and Clayton, on “Rock Bottom.”

Photo Credits: Carey Shaw

Where Canadian country music differs from its American counterpart is in the storytelling. Where American country became an ode to the drunk and brokenhearted, two-stepping in a honky-tonk, Canadian country remained mostly tied to its folk roots of detailed storytelling. You’ll find this in a lot of the music of the Canadian Country artists we feature. One song in particular that sticks out to me on this record as unmistakably Canadian is “Laila Sady Johnson Wasn’t Beaten by No Train.” Plaine takes the story of a potato farming matriarch and her unlikely demise and turns it into a haunting uptempo toe tapper vividly illustrating the entire event.

Malice, Mercy, Grief & Wrath is the kind of album you’d imagine playing on the jukebox in the background of a small town bar on drizzly Friday night with just the bartender and two other patrons in the joint. Her voice makes the record tender, but it’s content really makes you stop and think.

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