The first image in the liner notes for Red Moon Road’s Sorrows and Glories is striking; a scarred leg in high heels. The opening track, Beauty In These Broken Bones, is hard-hitting too. Layered voices lead in to a rousing spiritual, with a rumbling choir underpinning Sheena Rattai’s appealing appeal for God to erase scars, bruises and breaks. Despite desperation, the delivery is powerfully defiant, hinting at endurance, strength and survival.
The tone shifts in the pretty ditty Crashing Down, but pain remains. It isn’t purely physical; doubt and isolation outlast the initial impact. Comparison with Rattai’s experience of slow recovery following a freak Frisbee accident is perhaps inevitable, so it’s telling that there is an overriding sense of acceptance rather than self-pity: “sometimes the hard road is the only one.”
Although towers, dreams and bodies crash down, it would be wrong to assume the album dwells on despair. Even in Sophie Blanchard 1778, about the first woman to die in an aviation accident, the primary focus is on life not death. Sophie’s serenity and freedom as “she rose into the silence” is beautifully described to the tune of a gentle Parisian waltz. The song is one of many foregrounding instrumentation; the album includes clarinet, lapsteel guitar, mandolin, organ and glockenspiel.
The aviatrix was from France, and French is heard or alluded to in several songs. The Francophone influence is a hint that this music is distinctly Canadian. In Breathing Slow, the ageing protagonist recalls being told to “hold your head high and speak your language loud” when he left the family farm and took to the open road as a boy.
Although an apartment block in Central Winnipeg is memorialised in the pop-rock stormer Words Of The Walls, it is predominantly the Canada of vast farmlands and rural communities that Red Moon Road introduce us to. Old Things is a warm story song which vividly describes small-town life; the Campbell kid’s Chevy is “prairie sky blue.” Routines and local rivalries are enlivened by a nascent romance begun with a simple sweet smile at the car wash.
Planting Trees is another new world prairie tale. Daniel Jordan sings of work, ice, ownership and war – a life lived at one with the land, recalled through stories passed down through the generations.
With such a focus on the land, the seasons are central. One of the album’s highlights, I’ll Bend But I Won’t Break, depicts the sound, fury and silence of a storm that could either be literal or metaphorical. The insistent instrumentation and defiant vocals are truly compelling.
Sorrows and Glories is a fitting title for an album that deals with contrasts and extremes. Musical shifts echo both the wild changes of the Canadian seasons and the journey from disaster to recovery. Trauma, language and memories are not to be forgotten; adversity leads to experience and resilience. It’s clear that Red Moon Road know the hardships they sing about, and how to survive them: “I know weather like this – I’ve seen what it’s done…It will strike again/I won’t fall down.”
Sorrows and Glories is released in the UK on October 16 and Red Moon Road are touring the UK throughout October 2016, including The Green Note in London on October 11. Head over to http://www.redmoonroad.com for the full itinerary (including Preston’s Harris Library!)