I like Nancy Dutra. She showed up in my Music in the City course this past summer and, when I asked the class questions, actually put up her hand and answered. And everything she said was carefully considered; made me think. How she had time to fit in an intensive class that met for four hours a day over two weeks was beyond me; she was also planning her wedding and putting the finishing touches on her debut album, Time will Tell.
Nancy is a rare case in that she suddenly realized she wanted to be a musician in her mid-20s. She gave up her career plans and set to learning guitar and the art of songwriting. A brave thing to do in a big city, in an industry that at its best isn’t renowned for its stability, but she did it. Her first live show was opening for Ian Tyson at the famed Toronto roots venue, Hugh’s Room – if you meet her, get her to tell you the story, because it’s hilarious. Working alongside players like Wendell Ferguson while she sharpened her skills, Nancy developed a dedicated following within the cozy, supportive roots music scene of Toronto.
Her dedication has paid off. Nancy was smart to learn the ropes before jumping into premature recording. So far, Time will Tell has been well-received, and it features some of the top Canadians in the folk scene: Old Man Luedecke, Justin Rutledge, Ron Sexsmith, and Suzie Vinnick. She also worked with songwriter Kevin Welch, who has had Trisha Yearwood, Ricky Skaggs, and Patty Loveless cover his work. Sexsmith partnered with Dutra to write “Sweet Tomorrow”, a giddily happy love song, and he offered harmonies for it and “Sorrow Bound”. His voice is perfectly suited to Dutra’s sweet delivery. Welch shares songwriting credits and harmonies on “Nowhere Left”. The remainder of the album, though, is all Dutra originals. She’s obviously pretty happy, with a couple of tracks of her gushing over her brand-new hubby (the title track and “Sweet Tomorrow”) and others that celebrate family (“Ride that Train” and “Mama Taught Me How to Pray”). Still others are rooted in typical country fare: drinking, cheating, and heartbreak, though a country sensibility doesn’t entirely dominate the album.
I’d put this album into the category of Sunday Morning Albums: fire up some eggs and mushrooms, sit down with a coffee and pretend you’re reading one of those big folded up things that used to get black ink all over your hands, and this is the perfect backdrop. It’s an atmospheric album, with warm timbres and thick textures easing the transitions between songs. Dutra’s voice is gentle and she decorates her melodies with the occasional grace note or ornament. It’s easy to miss the heavier subject matter of songs like “Nowhere Left to Fall” if you’re focusing on the way arrangements blossom and settle softly around you; luckily tracks like “Ride that Train” and “I Cry” will temporarily lift you out of reverie with their more exuberant groove. This is an album full of sweet harmonies and artfully executed instrumental solos that are deserving of a good set of speakers.
Check out Nancy’s webpage and look for her upcoming live shows if you’re in the Toronto area.