“I didn’t know I’d actually be playing,” says Cara Luft, on her surprise two-song interlude set between Peter Yarrow and the Compadres at this year’s Canmore Folk Festival. “I showed up, and I knew all the folks doing the stage managing because they’re all Calgary people. They said, ‘Hey! Wanna do a ‘tweener?’ and I said ‘OK!’ It was a nice surprise.”
A nice surprise for those bored stiff by Peter Yarrow, hacking his geriatric way through “Puff, the Magic Fucking Dragon” for the trillionth time; but what’s no surprise at all is the budding international acclaim Luft’s receiving for her new album The Light Fantastic. This is Luft’s first full-length, written, recorded and released since her departure from the Wailin’ Jennies in 2004, but she’s ridden out any repercussions for daring to turn her back on the Juno Award-winning Winnipeg folk-supergroup. Truthfully, the ex-Calgarian was an established solo artist years before the Jennies formed, and the frustrations of her individual identity being eclipsed by the shadow of the trio were no small part of her painful decision to leave.
“I had a nightmare about my gig,” confides Cara, in regards to her upcoming Vancouver appearance – one of a series of West Coast dates following her recent Alberta shows with folk-rock legend Joan Armatrading. “The venue had suddenly changed to somewhere in the Okanagan, in a very weird, scary bar… in Vernon! I had never been there before, and suddenly no one else showed up for the gig! It was a very weird, very stressful dream. I woke up and said: whew…”
Although one’s heart pounds with protectiveness when picturing the comely Ms. Luft, eyes wide in terror and knuckles gripped white on the handle of her guitar case, trapped in a gloomy, godforsaken indoor redneck purgatory bedecked with all things backwoodsily hellish - one has to know that Cara Luft has been no stranger to dives throughout her colourful decade as one of Canada’s most beloved young folk songwriters.
“I’m lucky to be touring a lot, and touring with [musical partner] Hugh [McMillan of Spirit of the West],” Luft shares. “I toured England earlier this year. I found the English audiences to be very warm and receiving. I have such a love for Brit-trad stuff, and the folk-club audiences really like hearing different renditions of songs which are a long part of their history.”
Luft was known as the ‘rocker chick’ of the Wailin’ Jennies, and it’s easy to see why: her singing has a saucy quaver somewhat reminiscent of her early hero Ani DiFranco, but there’s also a lot of Sandy Denny in there. As a guitarist, she’s adept at alternate tunings, rapid-fire fingerpicking, and slide. Proof in the pudding: Bert Jansch’s “Blackwaterside” has long been a live staple of Luft’s and now appears on The Light Fantastic.
“I think we did a spectacular job all around,” Luft remarks. “We had good musicians and good engineers sculpting out the songs with us and laying them down. We laughed and drank port every night. It was very relaxed. This was a nice breath of fresh air, people were into the ‘three takes or no takes!’ approach, capturing the essence of the song in its pure form. Neil [Osbourne] hammered home the concept of being in the moment and capturing the song’s natural performance. It was cool working with someone who wasn’t in the folk world. I needed to go to someone who truly respected what I’m doing, but who had a totally fresh perspective and not with preconceived notions of what a “folk” record should sound like.”