Perhaps we should have seen it coming. First, Cara Luft served notice with the progressive folk of the new millennium's Tempting the Storm. She then flexed her considerable chops as a Wailin' Jenny. But the storm couldn't be staved off for long, and, after quitting the Wailin' Jennys, it has finally arrived. The lead track, There's a Train, on her brand new album, The Light Fantastic, feels like being nailed by a sudden gust of wind on a hot summer day. One second - amid pastoral picking, sparkling mandolin and the ache of swooning fiddle - she's a restless wildwood flower, heartsick and yearning for space on the back porch, and the next - whisky bent and hell bound, a hardened, leather clad brawler, her six-string ablaze - she's careening at top speed down highway 61.
"We kind of wanted to set the tone right away," says Luft over the phone from Hamilton, reflecting back on both the sessions and her relationship with producer Neil Osborne (54-40), whom she affectionately refers to as "Mr. Rock Extraordinaire."
"He knew I had a love of rock music, something with a little more grit and guts to it," she continues.
The Light Fantastic is by no means an exercise in mere volume manipulation, but rather a rich roots travelogue whose traditional heart beats with a wholly contemporary pulse. It spans the distance between the mists of English folk balladry and Middle East mysticism through to the Mississippi Delta and the rustic wonders of the Appalachian Hills with
a certain fearless reverence, and no small amount of soul.
"I've always loved traditional music of all sorts, but particularly British folk, so I've gravitated towards that. But also Led Zeppelin and Stan Rogers were huge influences. We left ourselves open to any and all ideas."
This, as it turned out, was precisely what she needed most of all. A founding member of the Wailin' Jennys - the much celebrated folk trio that took its first collective breath in Winnipeg nearly seven years ago - Luft, conflicted, stifled and creatively spent, decided to jump ship in '03 in an effort to rekindle her passion for music.
"It was difficult," says Luft about her decision to walk away from the group, "but it was a move I had to make. With the Jennys, everyone could really only bring about a quarter of their creative capabilities to the table. I just felt I wasn't really playing music I wanted to be playing. A lot of my input kind of got pushed to the side and it kind of felt like a light had gone out. But now, with this new project, I can finally bring 100 per cent of myself."