Rosemary Phelan, “What sings in the blood”

“What Sings in the Blood”, Rosemary Phelan’s third CD release in as many years, is an inspiring and reassuring collection of modern roots songs: a healing offering of love for a wounded world.

Many of the songs have a contemplative, prayer-like quality, as they reflect on universal themes of life and death, richness and poverty, war and peace, and of course, love. Though a melancholy current is present at times, a message of joy ultimately prevails, as it does in “Red Dress” (“hang up your blue dress, let down your hair / step out and just take a chance / beauty’s unfurling itself everywhere / put on your red dress and dance”).

In this intimate and personal recording (produced by Jason LaPrade and Rosemary Phelan; engineered, mixed and mastered by LaPrade), Rosemary’s sweetly mature voice takes on an surprisingly spontaneous quality in songs such as “I’ve Got the Stars”, a compassionate yet lighthearted portrait of a woman on Toronto’s streets.

It’s this light and hopeful tone that keeps the record aloft, even when the subject is violence and war (“Three Wishes”). On that song, Rosemary is joined by guests Ian Tamblyn and Jon Brooks, who add power and weight to the message. David Francey appears as well, in the lovely duet “Overwhelmed”, a positive take on a word that’s often used in our fraught culture, and the opening track “Redwing”, which could be a companion to Francey’s own “Red Winged Blackbird”.

(Special mention must be made of the colour red, which is an important element of several songs. “Hymn for the Innocent”, in particular, uses many shades of that colour to express life’s sorrows and joys. And Michael Wrycraft’s elegant album design highlights the red of both the bird above and the blood below.)

The production here is thoughtful and understated, but many instruments are used to create a meditative rootsy mood. Jason LaPrade on guitar and dobro is a constant complementary presence. He’s joined by Chris Coole on banjo, Murray Foster on acoustic bass, Emlyn Stam on piano, accordion and violin, Adam Warner on drums and Ian Tamblyn on First Nations flute, hammered dulcimer and Tibetan singing bowls.

Rosemary Phelan’s “What Sings in the Blood” is a record with a remarkable lightness of spirit, considering how deeply it delves into the human condition. There’s both gentleness and strength here…and a fleeting sense of grace, like the flutter of a bird’s wing. Above all, “What Sings in the Blood” is a welcome and timely reminder of the love and joy that is always present, running deep beneath the circumstances of our lives.

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