Canadian folk music isn't normally the domain of rivalries, but it's easy to pick up a trace of self-satisfaction when hearing Cara Luft talk about her first solo album since leaving the highly acclaimed band the Wailin' Jennys.
While the Winnipeg native doesn't overtly bear a grudge, Luft doesn't hesitate to describe The Light Fantastic as the best thing she's ever done.
"I found that the band was going in a direction that I didn't want to be associated with," she says. "It was really becoming more focused on image and perception rather than music. As a result of that, there wasn't as much room for people in the band to bring their entire musical sensibilities, so I felt like I was only offering about 20 per cent of who I am. I needed to get back to playing music that had some substance and guts."
Although Luft didn't have immediate plans to make a solo album when she left the band two years ago, the opportunity quickly presented itself when she met up with The Light Fantastic's producer Neil Osborne, front man of Canrock mainstays 54-40. "My mom actually knew a member of his family, so she sent him my demos and he said he'd love to make the record with me," Luft says.
"He brought such a fresh perspective, being someone outside of the folk community. He really had no rules when it came to how he felt the album should sound, apart from saying that if we couldn't get something in three takes, we should leave it alone. It was the complete opposite approach to how we recorded with the Jennys, which was always really painstaking. It was such a positive experience, and that meant more to me than whether people would potentially like the record or not."
For all of its relative looseness, The Light Fantastic does feature contributions from several of Canada's best acoustic musicians, including Luft's current touring partner, Hugh MacMillan, of Spirit Of The West. Yet the album remains a showcase for Luft's own inventive guitar playing, best displayed on her cover of the British folk nugget Black Water Side, which has challenged guitarists ever since Jimmy Page laid down his interpretation on the first Led Zeppelin album.
"Neil really pushed me to try to combine the Zeppelin version with the traditional version of the song," Luft says. "It was a lot of work to pull off, but it felt great in the end to give it a new appearance. British folk-rock bands that took that kind of approach to traditional songs have always influenced me. That was something Neil grasped right away too, which added to the excitement of making this record."
That sense of discovery is evident in Luft's original material as well, as she was keen to finally flex her songwriting muscles. "There are a few songs that I had written for the Jennys that were never going to be played by them, but the majority was written during a six-month period after I'd left the band. I went to this small town in Saskatchewan and wrote, just because I needed to release all this energy that had been suppressed for the previous few years."