One of the more unfortunate limitations of the word “Americana” is that it could give someone the impression that the genre’s music should be restricted to the Lower 48. That’s nonsense, of course. Artists like Kasey Chambers and Paul Kelly produce Americana music from as far away as Australia, while The Band’s members mostly hailed from Canada. Rather, it’s better to think of the term Americana in the Ellis Island, melting-pot sense of the term, which is where the delightful Manitoban duo Leaf Rapids washes ashore.
The first thing you notice about Leaf Rapids is Keri Latimer’s incredible voice. Girly and rangy with a pinch of gravel in the gullet, it registers like a cross between the aforementioned Chambers and The Innocence Mission’s Keren Peris. It’s the sort of voice that can harness anything from lush ballads to rustic folk, the spectrum of which is covered on Leaf Rapids’ sensational debut album, Lucky Stars.
Leaf Rapids is comprised of Latimer and her husband, Devin, each of whom used to play in the Juno Award-winning indie-folk band Nathan, which was signed to Nettwerk (best known as Sarah McLachlan’s label) in the early aughts. Keri is a multi-instrumentalist, while Devin focuses on bass. Lucky Stars’ producer, Steve Dawson, also contributes a slew of string parts on the album, in addition to organ and piano.
And then there’s Keri’s theremin.
While it’s named like a brand of cough syrup, the theremin is an eery electronic instrument that is manipulated like antennae, and sounds like what gets played during a horror movie when the boogeyman in the ski mask is about to jump out of the shower and slash the homecoming king’s throat. On Lucky Stars, it’s employed on a cover of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” that oscillates between doo-wop and dream-pop. When the Twin Peaks reboot releases its first trailer, this track should be playing in the background.
While the album’s sharpest tune, “Everything in Between,” is red-meat Americana, Lucky Stars really shines during its last five songs. “Vulture Lullaby” sounds like LSD seizing Alison Krauss’ soprano in real time, while “Gravity and a Ladder of Gold” and “Galaxie 500” lope down a similarly foggy, gorgeous path before Keri showcases the breadth of her vocal chops on “Agent of the Night.” The perfect precursor to a dose of theremin, in other words.