When it comes to music, some acts wear their influences on their sleeves a little more prominently than others. Make no mistake, however; virtually every act will show some of its musical influences in its songs.
Montreal’s Ladies of the Canyon are no exception.
While their 2010 debut album Haunted Woman was a pure country record that could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with anything coming out of Nashville, the group took a bit of a musical detour when it came to its newest record, Diamond Heart, released at the end of September.
The sound of the quartet’s newest album perhaps owes its biggest debt to the sound of Fleetwood Mac circa 1977’s mega-selling Rumours and 1979’s Tusk. Even though this shift in direction may seem abrupt to those who might have gotten turned onto the band when it was still predominantly a country music band, Ladies of the Canyon bassist Anna Ruddick says that the band has arrived at its current sound in a completely organic way.
“We definitely swung in a different direction with Diamond Heart. It was a gradual move for us in the band but it was definitely an intentional one,” Ruddick says. “We did a lot of touring behind our debut and as we got more experience as a live band, it was then that the songs sounded started naturally changing. We had originally begun as an acoustic group that happened to hire a drummer. Eventually though, the acoustic guitars were replaced with electric guitars and we started touring as a six-piece band; we started rearranging the songs to be louder.”
Asked at what point the band realized its sophomore record was going to have such a different sound in comparison to its debut, Ruddick says that it is difficult to pinpoint an exact time when that happened. With more than three years between studio efforts, Ruddick notes that the most important thing was that everyone in the band was completely comfortable in their new musical skin.
“We arrived at a point and just decided to go with it and make the most honest record we could make. These new songs are definitely more riff-oriented and less introspective. Lyrically, we go into some darker places as well. I am not sure how to describe where that comes from though. We were in our early 20s when we wrote our first record and then I think it was just a matter of us getting older and realizing we had a whole new set of problems to write about now,” Ruddick says.
The core trio of Ruddick, lead guitarist-singer Maia Davies and guitarist-singer Jasmine Bleile went into the studio with session drummers Jimmy Paxson (Stevie Nicks) and Jim Wilson (Rollins Band) to flesh out the group’s new sound. Current Ladies of the Canyon time-keeper Tara Martin joined the group midway through the production of Diamond Heart last fall.
The band went into the studio with Mark Howard, whose impressive resumé includes work with legendary acts such as Bob Dylan, the Tragically Hip and others. With Howard guiding them, the group routinely turned in 12-hour days in effort to find the perfect sound to its new Laurel Canyon-influenced material.
“Mark does have a background in rock music but has also worked with Bob Dylan and Emmylou Harris,” says Ruddick. “He was incredible at recording acoustic instruments and voices but is also completely skilled at working with bands whose sound is more along the lines of where we were coming from. He was the perfect producer and engineers that we could have had work with us on this album. The sounds that he got were just so beautiful.”
The direction that Ladies of the Canyon took with this album owes much to the 70s sound of the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac. Ruddick says that even though the group didn’t intentionally set out to write songs that sounded specifically like either of those bands, its attraction to that era of music was bound to manifest itself in one way or another.
“Our influences definitely came out more on Diamond Heart. We are all big Fleetwood Mac fans and fans of ’70s country-rock like the Eagles, where there is a big focus on vocals and harmonies. Even though our instrumentation is similar and the subject matter is also similar, we didn’t explicitly set out to write a song that sounds exactly like Fleetwood Mac. It just happened that way.”
Thus far, reaction to the group’s new record has been overwhelmingly positive and with good reason: the record brings the listener back to a time when music was exciting but still offers many nuances that keeps the group current.
The group’s performance at the Moncton iRock this Friday night in support of Tim Hicks is one of two performances it will play in the province. The group only has a smattering of shows through to the end of the year but bigger things lie ahead for 2014.
Ladies of the Canyon will be joining Canadian hit-makers Barenaked Ladies on its cross-Canada tour, starting in mid-January in Victoria, B.C. Ruddick excitedly notes that the tour will be the group’s biggest to date. They are hoping to make some new fans on the tour but perhaps even more importantly, Ruddick would love to experience Barenaked Ladies’ career longevity.
“We are completely honoured that the Barenaked Ladies are taking us with them on their tour. It was great news for a band like us that released a bit of a wild card second record,” she says. “We are very eager to bring this new record to audiences right across Canada.”
Article published in the November 5, 2013 edition of the Times & Transcript