The beauty of Manitoba’s forests, lakes and grasslands helped inspire Jess Reimer’s latest bluegrass-flavoured album The Nightjar and The Garden.
But despite some fairly bucolic song titles, like Whippoorwill and Blackbird, Reimer clearly doesn’t just sing about the sunny side of life.
An animated video for Reimer’s new song Maggie the Retriever (Bang Bang) tells a dark tale of alcoholism and domestic abuse. Another original track from the release, The Lonesome Death of Troy Davis, is about the lethal-injection death of an African-American man many feel was wrongly convicted of murder.
“I think I’m mostly influenced by what’s happening in my life directly, but also when something triggers my emotions,” said Reimer, who performs on Wednesday, April 8, at Fratters Speakeasy in Red Deer.
Her feelings have been piqued by topics both personal and political. Two-hundred-year-old trees being felled for a Manitoba Hydro project (Big Machines, Small Man) and imagined infidelity (Maybelle’s Muse) sparked a couple of original tunes from her 2011 debut record, Sweet Darling and Sorrow.
On her second album, Reimer feels she took everything she’d learned from her first release, and then upped the ante some. “I hope it contains some of my best songwriting yet,” said the singer, who grew up in Thompson, Man. and now lives with her guitar-maker husband and musician in La Riviere, Man.
One of her most haunting new tunes is Whippoorwill, about having to make tough choices at a young age. It alludes to the bird as an omen of death when it sings at night. “It’s supposed to steal souls before they have a chance to move on to the afterlife. I like to believe that’s why Hank Williams and other country artists sang about it,” said Reimer.
“The Nightjar and The Garden also encompasses everything from Patti Smith’s rock ’n’ roll union song People Have the Power, which was given the bluegrass treatment by Reimer, to the original and gospel-infused tune I Want to Believe. There’s also Reimer’s Grand Ole Opry interpretation of Warren Zevon’s Heartache Spoken Here.
The new album was made with vocal harmonies from Juno-Award winning Ron Sexsmith, and production by Blue Rodeo co-founder and keyboardist Bob Wiseman. There are also instrumentals and vocals from Reimer’s father Doug and some mandolin playing from her husband, Jeremy Hamm.
Reimer, who met Wiseman through a musician friend, expressed appreciation for all these contributions. Although she’s always identified as a country-bluegrass singer, she admitted there’s seldom been a better time to be one.
The popularity of eating locally grown foods, beards on young men, hemp clothing, and even pop-folk bands like The Lumineers, show there’s a real back-to-nature movement afoot that’s also embracing roots music, said Reimer.
“It’s fantastic,” she added, noting her new album is not only played by Canadian radio stations, but also by those in the U.S.
“It’s gone to No. 5 on Earshot (national campus and community radio) charts.”
For more information about her 8:30 p.m. show, with a $5 cover charge, call Fratters at 403-356-0033.