They are a study in contrasts.
Cara Luft, all earth mother, ebullient and engaging; and burly JD Edwards looking like a long-haul trucker in t-shirt and jean jacket, slightly intimidating (until you meet him). At first glance few would peg them for a highly creative musical partnership. Yet these two veteran singer/songwriters, with a dozen critically-acclaimed albums between them, have teamed up to form a dynamic new duo, The Small Glories.
Juno Award winner Cara Luft has earned a reputation as an exciting live performer, accomplished guitarist (she has been invited to perform at the prestigious UK International Guitar Festival), clawhammer banjo player, and insightfully honest songwriter. Luft combines her infectious personality and wild sense of humor with mesmerizing song craft. Fronting the JD Edwards Band since 2006, Edwards is a versatile singer/songwriter who has earned praise for his down home songwriting and superb vocal ability. A rivetingly energetic live performer and prolific songwriter, Edwards is a seasoned road warrior, and the real deal.
It’s a case of 1 + 1 = 3.
Their initial union came rather serendipitously. Residing in Winnipeg, each was aware of the other but it took venerated venue The West End Cultural Centre’s 25th anniversary event in October 2012 to bring them together. “The concept was to pair up artists who hadn’t played with each other,” Edwards explains. “We started rehearsing together,” recalls Luft, “and I realized this was what I’d been dreaming of for years; the way our voices fit together was incredible. I’m pretty sure I actually screamed ‘Holy s**t!’ from excitement.” The seeds of collaboration had been planted. However, individual commitments prevented the two from working together until the following year. Returning from a successful European tour promoting her recent album Darlingford, Luft found herself with free recording time at a new analog studio in Kelowna, BC. She instantly thought of Edwards. “I had to use the time or lose it, but I didn’t’t have any idea what I wanted to say. I didn’t have a story to tell. I had hit a wall.”
Writing and recording 2012’s Darlingford was a difficult experience for Luft; the pain of betrayal informed much of the album’s songs. She needed to change gears. “As an artist you can’t keep spinning your wheels,” she stresses. “I had been slogging it for years and progress had been incremental. Music had become a bit grueling.” Working with Edwards became the catalyst for that gear change. “When we started rehearsing together I fell in love with music all over again.” The two began recording and were immediately struck by the results.
“JD put his stamp on my songs and I put my stamp on his,” says Luft. “Then there are traditionals and covers that we melded together.” As for JD, “Cara brings a lot of great arranging to my music and more spirituality. It’s always important for artists to push yourself into a different realm of creativity and come out of it empowered and excited. That’s what we’re doing.”
Songs like “Home” (a collaboration between Luft, Edwards and Lewis Melville) and Woody Guthrie’s “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key”, both featuring Luft’s clawhammer banjo, have a warm, homespun charm to them, like old friends singing and playing together. Others, like “Fast Turning World” (by Luft, Edwards and Belly Hardy) and Edwards’ “Had I Paid” with its fiddle accompaniment are powerful musical statements.
The Small Glories has allowed Luft to finally put the long shadow of The Wailin’ Jennys behind her. “The Jennys was a very beautiful project but a bit too delicate,” she muses. “We created very sweet-sounding music, but this is more gutsy and honest and representative of who I am.”
Make no mistake, The Small Glories is no one-off flash in the pan. “We could continue going our own separate ways as artists and be fine,” Luft acknowledges, “but doing this together is far better. It’s all about being fulfilled in life and I’m very happy with this. It’s truly a partnership of equals. There’s something about the blending of our voices and the music that we make together that’s like nothing else I’ve done and I want to keep doing it.” Thank goodness for Small Glories.