No one can dispute the power that music has to change lives.
But it’s also good to acknowledge what it can do, how it can help, when lives have been changed.
For Alberta singer-songwriter Matt Patershuk it’s what he turned to when his beloved sister Clare was killed by a drunk driver on the Canada Day long weekend in 2013.
At the time of the tragedy, Matt had just released his acclaimed debut Outside the Lights of Town, and was well on his way to making his mark on the Canadian roots and alt country scene.
He admits that when he gave her eulogy days after her death, he’d originally “wanted to do something special in memory of her,” attempted to write something but wasn’t able to put into words and melodies what she meant and what he was feeling.
Later, he found that was all he could write.
“That’s just the way things work, I think,” Patershuk says.
“Life works its way into your art and I don’t think I would have had a choice to write about much else. And if I did, it wouldn’t have been very good because she was really all I thought about for such a long time after she died.”
Not surprisingly Clare, her memory, and Matt’s anger at the events colour much of his recently released sophomore release, the beautiful, moving, cathartic and cool harvest hills classic country album I Was So Fond of You.
The album even features artwork created by his sister — a cowboy whose features seem chiselled out of stone — and somehow perfectly suits the tenor and sepia tone of the 11-song collection.
Some of those tunes deal with his loss directly and others, even he admits didn’t start that way, but “turned out to be upon further listenings of my own song.”
That said, Fond of You is certainly not an album mired in grief, which, again, Patershuk thinks is in keeping with the inspiration behind it.
“As bleak as some of the subject matter is, I really do feel honestly very fortunate to be able to have the chance to put Clare’s memory out into the world a little bit,” he says.
“I just feel lucky to be able to talk about her a little bit and to put her memory out there. So that’s a positive thing, I think.”
Perhaps what’s most striking about the album is the naked honesty inherent in it, even when those thoughts are couched behind something else, such as the lonesome, plaintive heart-tugger Mean Coyotes or the seething yet melancholic cowboy revenge song Harviestown.
Patershuk admits it was a difficult thing for him, noting he’s something of a reserved person in his real life, not one to reveal all.
It’s why he admits, albeit laughingly, that even putting those thoughts and ideas out there in song was done “with a considerable amount of terror.”
Helping greatly in the immediacy and honesty of the album is the way in which it was recorded down Nashville, once again with expat Steve Dawson. Like Outside the Lights of Town, its successor was recorded predominantly live, with the musicians all in one room, sitting in a circle and feeding off of the intimacy.
The only thing that was added after the fact were the gorgeous vocals of Ana Egge, who sands off some of the edges, adds a fitting sense of femininity to the proceedings.
Patershuk credits her entirely with making it seem as if she was also in the room, and calls it a “privilege” to have her on the album. It’s also, he says, a suitable contribution considering he’d opened for the prairie-born, Brooklyn-based artist at a show in Edmonton a few weeks before his sister was killed, and she had professed a fondness for Egge.
“So aside from me having an immense amount of artistic respect for Ana, it was nice to have her on this record about Clare because Clare was a huge fan of hers,” Patershuk says.
“It was a nice way to tie things together and I think it did, for me, anyway, add some emotional punch because I know how much she would have liked to hear her singing on it.”
Again, not as if the album needed any more punch to it or any more meaning to it, because even as we move forward, it will continue to keep Clare’s memory alive and build off of that. There’s the fact that proceeds from I Was So Fond of You will go to three charities that meant a great deal to her, including: the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton, where she worked as a counsellor; the Peace Area Riding for the Disabled Society, “in honour of Clare’s love of using horses in therapy”; and the Clare Patershuk Undergraduate Psychology Travel Fund at the University of Alberta.
But there’s also, more importantly to Matt, the opportunity to get in front of audiences nightly, such as the Festival Hall one this Friday, and keep her spirit alive.
“I feel really lucky to have the chance to do that,” he says. “Because ever since we lost her that’s the thing I’ve been afraid of the most. We know she’s not here any more but you lose her memory a bit I think day by day. So that’s a great way to keep that alive, to be reminded of her and really have a few minutes to think on her memory and meditate on it.
“It feels good … I’m more than happy to do it.”