Issue: 2017-03-01, PHOTO: Christian Kuntz Photography
Whitehorse singer-songwriter Claire Ness will introduce her latest CD, On The Trail, with a concert this Saturday on the Yukon Arts Centre’s main stage.
If Claire Ness had her druthers, she’d be performing for children by day and providing cabaret-style adult fare once the sun goes down. But not just as a singer-songwriter.
“There's something about straight music that lacks the theatrical part for me,” the multi-faceted Whitehorse entertainer admits.
“What I'm working on now, that I would like to be my identity, is like a traveling kind of show that includes comedy and circus and theatre, but is musically-based. Like a music show with all those things.”
A one-woman variety show.
For now, though, Ness is concentrating on the singer-songwriter part of her persona as she prepares to launch her third CD, On The Trail, with a concert at the Yukon Arts Centre this Saturday.
Ness describes the album as “old time country meets jazz cabaret,” citing such predecessors as Cole Porter’s “Don’t Fence Me In,” and some of the jazz recordings by country legend Willie Nelson.
“It's sort of like a straightforward country approach to old-school, '30s vocal jazz,” she says.
“I would say it's got folk roots, a bit of blues and bluegrass, but jazz is sort of where I draw inspiration from and is probably the top of my influences.”
Producer Bob Hamilton of Old Crow Recording Studio selected the 10 cuts on the CD from about 30 songs Ness brought to him.
“A couple of them are newer songs, and a few of them are written about my husband, who I only met two and a half years ago. So they can't be that old,” she says.
In fact, the album’s eighth song, “Mechanic”, is the cheeky ditty she used to serenade her husband, Pascal, while he fixed Hamilton’s car on a parking lot in Watson Lake the day they met (see “Another Field, Another Fest” published in the June 17, 2016 issue of What’s Up Yukon).
Ness admits that encounter and its aftermath, including the birth of the couple’s son, has affected her writing style a lot.
“I was kind of worried once I got into a loving relationship that I wouldn't have any material any more, because I've written so many angsty songs about getting over relationships, or blues songs about a**holes I've been with,” she laughs.
“All of a sudden, I've got all these light, frothy love songs. But it's really been nice to write those, because they're always sort of what my audience wants to hear.”
The album’s romantic fare includes mellow, danceable tunes such as “The Cave” and “Dance Me Through Life.”
Another of her passions, the out-of-doors, is reflected in the first two numbers, “Lake and River” and “Cheer Up Sky.” Ness thinks their message will resonate even with urban dwellers.
“When I lived in the city, I needed an escape. I needed to go to the woods. I don't know if most city people feel that way, or if it's because I was born in the woods,” she says.
“I think it's important for people to be in touch with nature, and if you can't get out into nature, then music is a way you can visualize it, and I think this probably takes people there.”
Her two previous CDs, Hopeless Romantic (2013) and Jackfish Girl: Live (2014), offered a variety of Yukon-themed songs that seemed aimed primarily for northern audiences.
This time, she hopes to appeal to more national and international audiences, with songs that are “a bit more timeless and a bit more universal, but still keeping the sort of Yukon-like perspective.”
For those who prefer a darker, more sardonic tone, there is the ballad of “Low Ball Louie” and the sad tale of “Ruthie T.”, a country girl who falls under the sway of a bad dude named Ace.
Thematically, Ness says, the 10 tracks provide a pastiche of “love, death, travel, revenge and simpler times.”
The album features a who’s-who of local musicians, as well as Toronto clarinetist John D. Williams, who sent his riffs in electronically, and whom Ness has yet to meet. She hopes to do so this fall when she tours for the official eastern release of On The Trail.
This week’s launch concert will include all the songs from the album, as well as a few cover tunes and some new songs.
The ensemble backing her will include Hamilton (mandolin, guitar and pedal steel), Grant Simpson (keyboards), Paul Bergman (stand-up bass), Lonnie Powell (drums) and Olivier de Colombel (sax).
Whitehorse silks acrobat Johanna Goossens will make a guest appearance for the final song of the evening.
The concert will take place on the Yukon Arts Centre’s main stage, on Saturday, March 4, starting at 8 p.m.