“Ingrained” – Carly Dow

4 stars (out of 5)

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Carly Dow ScrollerCarly Dow’s first solo album, “Ingrained” is one of those that grabs your attention right from the start. The opening song “Olive Branch” is a cappella apart from a kick drum and handclap combination which are just enough to keep the musical pulse going. It pulls together elements of spirituals and Native American music with a feminist theme and some gorgeous vocal arrangements. It’s beautiful and you know that anything following such an adventurous opening has to be worth hearing. Musically the arrangements are generally minimalist with a few exceptions, including the jaunty country of “Too Much to Go Back”, the blues of “This Dress” and the ominously jazzy melancholy of “Down This Road”.

Across the album the musical stylings are unusual, with banjo, lap steel and a thudding kick drum supplying the backdrop for “Soil to Dust” while the plaintive “Casanova” works perfectly with just a rhythmic acoustic guitar and electric blues harmonica. Each song has an interesting and innovative arrangement, generally avoiding the guitar, bass and drums format that’s designed to enhance the lyrical feel and allow Carly’s powerful but achingly vulnerable vocals (with maybe just a hint of k.d. lang) sit right at the front of the mix.

The album has a strong sense of Carly’s Manitoba roots, with references to the cold winters, harbours, frost and prairies creating a strong sense of place, woven into the fabric of love, loss, relationships, leavetakings and homecomings. “This Dress” serves up a perfect mix of these ingredients, opening with an eighteen hour journey and taking in love, the feeling of coming home and the attachment we have to that special place: ‘The feel of this place sticks to your skin, Makes you feel naked when you leave again, I’m like a newborn into the world, Each time I leave home.’ “Down this Road” combines themes of love and death against a laid-back jazz arrangement, which may not sound like a bundle of laughs, but the insanely catchy vocal refrain embeds the song in your brain and there’s nothing you can do about it.

“Ingrained” is a deeply moving and affecting piece of work combining powerful well-crafted lyrics with innovative arrangements to create a set of songs that are melancholy and memorable, but ultimately life-affirming.

“Ingrained” is out now and available at Bandcamp.