Cape Breton singer-songwriter Carmen Townsend has had a very busy year in her music career: she recently returned from a tour of Australia, she crossed Canada opening for legendary rockers Heart (something she describes as a life-changing experience), and she released her first album, Waitin’ and Seein’.
The titles of the ten tunes (“Nothing Lasts Forever”, “Sweet Little Bird”, or the title track) might fool newcomers to Townsend’s music into believing they’ll be hearing a lot of mellow folky introspection. And, of course, they would be wrong. This is a rock album I think was meant to be played loud, especially when it opens with the focused fury of the Zeppleinesque “River Rat”. Even when an acoustic guitar sets the pace (like on “Nothing Lasts Forever”), there is a muscularity to the playing. And this is probably the first album to feature a track with a head banging country groove (“Without My Love”).
Most tracks are Townsend on guitar backed by her band, Thomas Allen on drums and Shane O’Handley on bass (and mandolin and guitar on the occasional track) and they can grind out the power riffs (“Hands and Mouth”) as well as supply supple backing on tracks like “Waitin’ and Seein'” and “All That Was Left”. Although some guest musicians add some musical colours to a few tracks, and there are a few vocal and instrumental overdubs, this is a big sounding album that doesn’t stray too far away from Carmen Townsend’s live shows.
And this was a smart move on the part of the CD’s trio of producers Warren Bruleigh, Gordon Gano, and Darren Gallop (recording at Carriage House Studios in Connecticut and Sydney’s Soundpark Studios).
Townsend’s voice, distinctive in its ability to effortlessly swing back between girlish innocence and womanly experience, floats and soars over the solid guitar-driven arrangements. Lyrically, most of the tunes are about busted relationships, but come from the mature wisdom of (and I am paraphrasing): “yeah, we had a good thing, you jumped ship, it didn’t kill me, and we still might get it back if you can just grow up”.
Or as “Sweet Little Bird” puts it: “I swear I heard your name sung by a sweet little bird, but before I could be sure just like you he turned and flew away.”
Townsend has worked towards this release for many years, constantly gigging with her own band and other groups like The Tom Fun Orchestra, earning her chops set by set, so it is no surprise her first release is confident, engaging, and musically and emotionally mature.