Kim Beggs is blue right down to her bones, but the Whitehorse, YT singer-songwriter doesn't let it get her down. On her third release, Black Hen Music's Blue Bones, Beggs wears more of her melancholy heart on her sleeve than ever before. Her list of woes runs the gamut from two-timing lovers to the plight of the homeless, but her bright, old-time vocal style, not to mention her keen wit and occasional yodelling, keep the album as light and airy as the translucent butterfly that adorns its cover. Beggs (whose 2006 album, Wanderer's Paean, earned nominations for both Canadian Folk Music and Western Canadian Music awards) has teamed up this time with Black Hen's brilliant Steve Dawson, who brings variety and polished instrumentation to the arrangements. Amongst beautiful covers of songs by Bob Dylan, Patty Griffin and Jack Clement are compositions that demonstrate growth in Beggs's songwriting. The finest example is "Maiden Heart," commissioned by Yukon writer and performer Ivan Coyote for a collection of Northern love songs. The sweetly meandering melody, combined with countrified guitar and the gritty harmonies of American musician and producer Gurf Morlix, is the very definition of rootsy charm.
How did you choose the cover songs for this album?
There's a lot of sadness in those songs and I feel so good when I sing them. It's nice to see that other people write sad songs too. I feel a sort of kinship to the writers of these songs. I think a big part of me is sad. And sadness can be sort of a taboo; you're supposed to be happy. And if you're not, then there's something wrong. I mean, I laugh, I have a sense of humour, but my place of rest is not really with a smile on my face. And when I'm singing somebody else's sad songs, it makes me feel like it's okay to be blue.
How was it working with Steve Dawson?
I loved working with Bob Hamilton for the last two records, but I wanted to explore different sides of myself and I thought I could do that better with some new DNA. We've got amazing musicians up in Whitehorse, so it's not so much about better musicianship; it's just about having access to different people. An artist's sound develops through many records and different collaborations. I wanted this to be a roots album, but I wanted Steve to be able to explore a bit as well. I'm really pleased with the results.
How does the Northern landscape and culture affect your songwriting?
I think the land connects to the people. Maybe it's all that gold in the ground. Gold is powerful when you dig it out and make jewellery out of it, but the stuff is also powerful when it's left exactly where it is. It's in the water and I think that feeds people; it has a way of speaking to people and they discover their creative side. And there are fewer people that live up here, so there are fewer demands on your time. It gives you time to explore your creativity. The landscape creates a pretty strong community too. It's raw, it's rugged, so people help each other out a lot.
You're a carpenter by trade. Do you still do carpentry?
Mostly I've been focusing on my music career, but I did a job this summer, got back to swinging the hammer, hauled out the tools again. I was just working on a deck, putting up the railings and building stairs. My favourite thing to do is stairs. I find it really peaceful and meditative, and I get a lot of joy out of making things that are functional and beautiful, and using my hands.
What are the similarities between stair building and songwriting?
The beautiful thing about stairs is that you don't need a lot of nails to attach them at the top. They have a way of just sitting there on their own. You put a couple of nails in there at the top to hold them in, but if they're cut right, you sit them on the floor and lean them against the wall and they'll just sit there and they won't move unless there's an earthquake. And I love that: the way the physics of it just works. Stairs get you from a lower level to a higher level. And songs are kind of like that too: they can give you a lightness of being and a kind of a joy. If a song is well constructed, you get through this emotional journey and feel joy, peace or satisfaction at the end of it. (Black Hen)