CARA LUFT **** LEITH FOLK CLUB
THERE'S clearly some great word of mouth about Leith Folk Club going around among grassroots North American singer-songwriters, such artists having formed an increasingly frequent and rewarding strand of its weekly Tuesday night programme.
Born in Calgary and based in Winnipeg, Cara Luft spent three years as co-founder of acclaimed close-harmony trio the Wailin' Jennys, before leaving in 2005 to resume her solo career. The troubadour life clearly suits her: appearing in Leith ahead of several similarly intimate gigs in the Highlands, she and multi-instrumentalist Hugh McMillan had already been touring in Europe since early June, yet there was nothing remotely jaded about their performance, just plenty of relaxed warmth and vivacity from Luft – including some hilariously extended anecdotes describing the origins of particular songs – and a wealth of arresting yet beautifully apt accompaniment from McMillan, on mandolin, lap steel and electric bass.
As represented primarily by tracks from her second solo album, The Light Fantastic, plus a few from its predecessors and the odd Wailin' Jennys cut, Luft's main musical heartland lies in country-folk territory, to which she brought an assertively strong, clear, pliant voice, with an assured command of dynamic nuance and contrast.
In its balance of dulcet sweetness and tangy twang, her singing also contained shades of Nanci Griffith and Mindy Smith, along with the steely, bluesy muscle flexed in a couple of rockier numbers, Give It Up ("about boys who need to grow up before they can fall in love with a real woman – like me!"), and You're No Friend of Mine, a wry retrospective riposte to schooldays humiliation. A compelling cover of Led Zeppelin's Black Mountainside, working in echoes of the Bert Jansch/Pentangle version, displayed the breadth and expertise of her musical references, while a winsome rendition of The Bonnie Lighthorseman offered further graceful acknowledgement of the folk-club setting.