“Here We Go Again” seems a fitting welcome to fans, embracing a Mumford-and-Sons-type sound. Precise production choices make “I Can Have It All” seem like a hop, skip, and angst into the reality of the life of today’s generations. It’s truly brilliant in its paradoxes: how many toe-tapping heroin-addicted youths identify here? “Stay In” is enveloped in harmonic brilliance, while Paul Otten’s drums drive into the sweet goodbye of “Where Are You Now.” The reality of mental health is anthemic in the chorus of this stunner. The piece is unexpectedly emotional in its authentic cries fading into a solo violin. Brilliance shines in unexpected places.
Optimism is the underlying tone of this record. Paul Otten and Helen Austin “Get There” in an unusual way, as on this track they represent getting through hell. Austin’s angelic vocal delivery wrapped in the warmth of simple folk instrumentation is perfect. Like kids lost in the dark holding on to a line in order to find that safe place, the lush cello and violin of “Old Armchairs” dance in the dark. The track is confident in spite of fear, challenging listeners to let go and yet feel safe. Musical storytelling like this makes it clear why the duo won Canadian Folk Music Award for Ensemble of the Year in 2015.
Haunting in its honest description of depression, “The Outside” feels like blowing on a frozen windowpane in order to see out. The nuanced simplicity of “Find It While I’m Falling” is another personal favorite from this excellent album. The harmonies at times feel like Angus & Julia, definitely shifting more towards a folk vibe heading towards the end. Optimism gets old without a balance of darkness, and the minimalist “Ripples” is genius. Stark and mixed to an amazing level of separation, this is one of the most relevant tracks of the album. Holistic in its message, words do not do the lyrics and music justice.
An album with fourteen songs that all have substance is rare. Yet this one is richly satisfying in its length. Big Little Lions is that endangered species in the music industry: a band combining intelligent songwriting with unique stylistic musicality. —Lisa Whealy