Album Review: Belle Starr – Belle Starr

Belle Starr - Belle Starr

Belle Starr
Belle Starr
CMT / Sony 2013

I always find it interesting how I come to find the bands and musicians I listen to.  So how did I come to be a Belle Starr fan?  I have been a fan of Kendel Carson for years, I guess when her album Alright Dynamite came out in 2009.  I have seen her many times and she is now a friend of mine.  So when I heard a year and a half ago that she was working on a project with Miranda Mulholland and Stephanie Cadman, I thought holy shit that is going to be interesting.  Kendel, Miranda and Stephanie are all very accomplished fiddle players with impressive resumes.  Three singing, fiddle playing women fronting a band, very cool idea.  Last year the ladies released an EP entitled “The Burning of Atlanta” which was a collection of six covers that Belle Starr put their distinctive spin on.  Go give it a listen.  “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” is fantastic!!

I have seen Belle Starr and handful of times since the EP release so I had a pretty good idea what the album was going to sound like.  Following the lead of the EP, their self-titled debut album is predominately Belle Starr’s re-imagining of others songs.  And like the EP it is loaded with some great Canadian songs like Neil Young’s “Love Is A Rose”, Justin Rutledge’s “Be A Man”, NQ Arbuckle’s “Art O’Leary”, Cameron Latimer’s “Heartbreaker”, Jack Marks’ “New Girl Now” and The Skydiggers’ “Pull Me Down”.

Speaking of The Skydiggers, Josh Finlayson produced the album and played both acoustic and electric guitar.  The highlight of the album for me is Belle Starr’s rendition of “Pull Me Down”.  Originally a hit for The Skydiggers back in 1993 off their album Just Over This Mountain, this version is stunning!  The ladies vocal harmonies on this track alone demonstrate why they work as a band.  I can not recall three voices that better complimented each other.

“New Girl Now” was released as the lead single and while it is certainly radio friendly, I personally think there were better choices.  The cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Tougher Than The Rest” is a much more seductive take than the original and for me at least plays in my head long after I have listened to the album.  It has this great building guitar that is stylistically like The Edge playing on U2’s Joshua Tree.  What is that doing on a Belle Starr record?  Who cares, it’s awesome!

The other big standout for me is Belle Starr’s interpretation of Neil Young’s “Love Is A Rose”.  While this one is not very far off Neil’s original, I would much rather listen to Kendel, Miranda & Stephanie sing it any day.  Why?  Those great vocal harmonies.  It’s like a campfire tune.  You just want to grab your acoustic guitar and sing along.

In summary, I really enjoyed this album as I knew I would having previously seen much of this material live.  What this album does really really well is showcase three amazing voices whose sum is even greater than the constituent parts.  It also brings the fiddle to the forefront of a band.  And not one of them but in most cases, three.  Has that ever been done before?  I do not think so.  I also really like that Belle Starr is a band featuring three talented women all of whom play supporting roles in other bands.  They deserve the spotlight.

The only thing I wish I would have heard more of is original material.  Granted there are three original fiddle tunes on the album, “Arthur’s Air”, “Charity Kiss” and “Plough The Sea” but I really wanted some original Belle Starr folk-rock tunes.  I have read the interviews where the ladies have said they were trying to craft the Belle Starr sound by covering songs important to them rather than writing their own material right out of the gate.  I get that approach and it certainly worked.  I just know they are each great song writers so we will see what happens on the next record.

Belle Starr is currently touring Canada to support the album and are having a CD release concert at the Drake Underground in Toronto on April 16th.  You should go.  I am.  In the meantime check out the live acoustic version of “New Girl Now”.  Go buy their album.  Now.