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Winnipeg’s Sweet Alibi makes the best of difficulties


Just as some people find it helps to laugh when they’re feeling down, Sweet Alibi tends to writes cathartic, uplifting songs about difficult experiences.

So far, the Winnipeg-based trio has written acclaimed soul-folk songs about all manner of problems — ­from the chronic sickness of a parent to one of the group members’ struggle to achieve sobriety.

“When you’re on the road, there’s so much you’re dealing with,” said Amber Rose Quesnel, Sweet Alibi’s co-vocalist, guitar and ukulele player.

Often the only link to your main support system is a cellphone, “so when we lose phone service we get really depressed!” she added, with a chuckle.

I’ll Wait, a song about mortality, recently made it to No. 4 on CBC Radio 2’s Top 20.

The tune was inspired by a couple of personal tragedies — Quesnel’s mother’s chronic health problems, and the death of another relative’s young sister many years ago.

Quesnel, who performs with Sweet Alibi on Thursday at The Hideout, just south of Red Deer, remembers feeling helpless frustration to be playing in Montreal as her mother was having surgery in Winnipeg.

Co-writing and performing I’ll Wait turned out to be soothing: “It helped me big time.”

Likewise, Jess Rae Ayre, the group’s other lead vocalist, guitar and piano player, wrote Get It Right about her battle for sobriety.

Quesnel recognizes it isn’t easy for her fellow group member to play in bars across the country when she’s resolved to stop drinking.

But Ayre feels happy to have overcome that obstacle, saying “I think I’m now connecting better to people and my music.”

Writing uplifting songs about dark experiences comes naturally because of the group members’ positive personalities, said Ayre.

“When you go through something that’s hard, in the end you’ve got to make the best of it. It’s what life hands you. You’ve got to deal with it.”

The band, including harmonizer and banjo player Michelle Anderson, had been through so many ups and downs in the two years between recording Sweet Alibi’s self-titled debut CD and the most recent album We’ve Got To, which was released last November, that it was obvious the songs written in between had to go on the second record.

“We couldn’t not record them,” said Quesnel.

And pouring personal feelings into the album, produced by Rusty Matyas, of Imaginary Cities, seems to be paying off: Sweet Alibi was a featured performer during the recent Juno Week, a semifinalist in an international songwriting competition, and is connecting with a widening audience across the country.

Quesnel said there’s rarely a Sweet Alibi show that doesn’t prompt listeners to remark on the meaning they found in one of the tunes.

Even Phoebe, which was written as a tribute to Quesnel’s late pet cockatiel, brings people forward.

“They’ll say, ‘I just lost my grandmother,’ ” so the song resonates on different levels.

She credits the support of the CBC and radio stations such as CKUA for the band’s music for also helping build an audience for Sweet Alibi.

As a result, the talented trio, who were nominated for best vocalist at the 2012 Canadian Folk Music Awards, have a full summer of festivals to look forward to.

Quesnel believes the ambitious group works because each of the three members brings a unique perspective, background and personality to the band. Musical influences include bluegrass, jazz, blues and classical.

The trio have managed to pool their talents and transcended different backgrounds to form a family of “sisters” that is appealing to listeners across Canada.

There’s no admission charge for the 9 p.m. show (doors open at 8 p.m.). For more information, call 403-348-5309.

lmichelin@reddeeradvocate.com

 
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