Basia Bulat's music has always been exuberant. Her previous albums were defined by an energetic rush of folk pop enthusiasm; live performances were musical sprints punctuated by flashes of silvery blonde hair shimmering in the spotlight, as the London ON native hugged her autoharp and sent her honeyed voice ringing to the rafters. Her songs felt like a headlong rush, powerful but with a hint of breathlessness.
Tall Tall Shadow is different. There is a restraint that prevails on Basia Bulat's third album, a restraint born of maturity, of experience, of the realization that the world does not always play fair. The album is a study in contrasts—darkness and light, loss and resilience, close personal songs whose feeling of intimacy is somehow enhanced through stepped-up production levels on the recordings. The ten songs on Tall Tall Shadow take a giant step away from the folksie simplicity of Bulat's earlier music and highlight her growth as a musician who has unquestionably found her stride.
The autoharp that has become synonymous with Basia Bulat still plucks its way into your heart on this album, but synthesizer, omnichord and Andean charango all add texture and a well-rounded flavour to the music. Bulat's voice, as always, is rich and powerful. Her slightly husky honeyed tones have always been a cyclone blowing through the Canadian folk music scene, but with the more restrained, more intensely personal songs on Tall Tall Shadow, that voice is starting to draw comparisons to another husky-toned Canadian songstress—Joni Mitchell.
“You can't run away if the shadow is yours,” Bulat warns on the title and lead track, a building song that begins as a gentle singer-songwriter piano piece and morphs into an impassioned anthem. It is a precursor to the intimate and powerful songs that follow. Overall, Tall Tall Shadow embraces a more distinctly pop-leaning sensibility than do any of Bulat's earlier folk-based albums. The prominent handclaps and steely shimmer of “Promise Not To Think About Love” is perhaps the most prominent example of this shift, along with the beat-heavy “Wires”. But it is the maturity that enriches some of the more poignant songs that gives the album true strength. “The City With No Rivers” speaks of longing and regret. The stunning “Paris or Amsterdam” addresses great loss with sweet, bruised beauty. “Yesterday I thought I saw you … it happens often,” Bulat sings on this gentle and powerful tribute. “Every time I feel myself unravelling, I can tell myself that you've been travelling all this time.”
Tall Tall Shadow can be streamed online at the A.V. Club. Catch Basia Bulat on tour throughout North America until the end of the year.