Rae Spoon has stopped running from the big sky. With the release of My Prairie Home, the Alberta-raised, Montreal based musician braves a return to both musical and personal roots. Although Spoon has embraced an increasingly electronic sensibility on two previous albums, My Prairie Home harkens back to the atmospheric country folk that defined the musician's earlier sound. It is the perfect vehicle for an album about growing up transgendered in a troubled Evangelical home.
My Prairie Home is the soundtrack to a NFB documentary of the same name, making its debut at the 2013 Vancouver International Film Festival. As such, it forms a loose trilogy comprised of album, film and Spoon's semi-autobiographical novel, First Spring Grass Fire. The album, though, stands fully-realized on its own as a collection of starkly beautiful and surprisingly catchy songs. My Prairie Home begs to be listened to in its entirety, in a quiet room, to feel the full impact of the powerful narrative.
Interspersed with short choral pieces and instrumental interludes, like the muted church choir of “Glacier Step” and the sombre organ suite of “Bird Take Off”, the tracks on My Prairie Home are a sonic memory of an uneasy childhood. Spoon's perpetually pure sweet voice and measured delivery, set against a backdrop of sparse instrumentation with carefully doled out strings and horns, imparts a vulnerability to the music, perfectly suited to the quiet rebellion that lies within the words. “Where was Jesus when we needed him?” they sing on “Amy Grant,” “I wish I'd heard of Freddie Mercury when he was still alive / I would have switched sides.”
These are songs that blend Spoon's characteristic humour and frankness with an uncompromising memory. The unabashed confessional of songs like “Cowboy” (“I wanted you to think I was a cowboy, so I told you where I was from / But all I ever did was run from trucks / And I never held a gun”) gives My Prairie Home a near painful honesty. You know exactly the jaded innocence that Spoon feels when they sing “my prairie home fits like a Sunday dress.” A dress that was once a symbol of acceptance and belonging, but is now ill-fitting, scratchy, constricting.
Musically, My Prairie Home mixes country, choral, and folk pop. There are still touches of electronica amidst the organs and the ukuleles, notably in the drum machine underpinning “I Want” and in the soulful reworking of “Love is a Hunter”. As always, it is Rae Spoon's understated but heartbreaking voice, unquestionably their most powerful instrument, that truly shines on My Prairie Home. It's a voice that lends disarming clarity to these disconcertingly honest songs.
Be sure to catch Rae Spoon on tour throughout Canada this fall.
– Barbara Bruederlin