Art is such a beautiful, confusing thing. On one level, it’s entirely personal: no one on this planet will ever have the connection you do to a piece. It means to you what it means to you and it’s rare two people will have the same perespective.
One the other hand, though, that intimate connection is shared with millions of people across the world. We all have different memories and feelings that come to mind when we hear our favourite song, but we’ll all go to a concert and sing along just the same.
This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately as I’ve been listening to the Fortunate Ones, an indie folk duo hailing from Newfoundland. Everything about their life experience is so different to mine; their remote Northern Canadian home, their local music scene and their lives as professional musicians. There’s no reason whatsoever for their lyrics to have any resonance with me and yet, as I soak in their music and their words, I find them resonating with me as though I know exactly what they’re singing about.
This is a dynamic the band is very aware of. Andrew O’Brien, who founded the group with Catherine Allan (a backing musician from his solo band), said that the group’s name is a reflection of this.
“The name is reflective of how we feel to be able to pursue this career,” he said. “To be able to share this music and to connect with people in a meaningful way. It is an honour that we are grateful to be experiencing.”
Coming from St. John’s, Newfoundland, the Fortunate Ones feel that Canada is a big part of their identity as performers.
“Newfoundland is where we both got our start.” said Allan. “It’s an immensely creative and inspiring place.”
The band is in good company when they speak well of their province; country and folk legend Ron Hynes, comedian Tommy Sexton, actor Greg Malone and underrated folk hero Ken Tizzard all hail from the area.
All that and far more, in Newfoundland alone. It’s hardly surprising that Fortunate Ones feel this connection with their home, but also with Canadian acts on a wider scale. Both Allan and O’Brien cite Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell amongst others as influences on their music. Allan also mentions The Beatles and Feist amongst her more prominent inspirations.
“I grew up with a pretty eclectic variety of music around me,” she said.
You can hear elements of all of these influences through their music. Those plaintive moments in which only a soft acoustic guitar backs a powerful voice as in ‘Picture in a Frame’, the way that vocal harmonies play off one another in beautiful interconnected bliss, the way in which a few simple verses can tell a grand story as in ‘If You Go’, all bare echoes of the musical history that Fortunate Ones are hugely invested in. The sum of these parts, however, is something entirely unique.
This is brought into even more focus on their new album Hold Fast. While staying true to the musical vision so carefully laid out on 2015’s the Bliss, there’s an experimentation here with a wider palette of production techniques and arrangements. The recorded songs boast a much larger musical backing with string sections and more electric guitar than previously, even including some electronic elements.
But this change in style wasn’t an entirely conscious decision; Fortunate Ones followed the music more than anything.
“We simply followed whatever ideas we had for each of the songs,” said Allan. “There wasn’t a purposeful departure from one type of sound, rather, a decision to follow through with the ideas that made themselves known as we went through the recording process.”
It’s pretty clear from the results that their instincts were right on the money: Hold Fast is a bona fide delight from start to finish. The plaintive and thoughtful ‘She’, the upbeat and catchy ‘Northern Star’ and the more pop-influenced ‘Don’t Let it Be Us’ all sit alongside one another with ease, all connected by Allan and O’Brien’s unwavering commitment to their vision. What’s more, the record achieves a huge range of emotional moments without ever falling into the sickly-sweet over-sentimentality that’s so common in the genre. A personal favourite is ‘Somebody Like You’, a beautiful love letter Allan and O’Brien sing to one another, trading off lead vocals in the verses and then coming together in the choruses with such sublime harmony that it almost feels like too personal a moment to be a part of.
The Fortunate Ones will be playing at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre on October 16 in support of Hold Fast. You simply don’t have any excuse to miss it.