Tannis Slimmon,
Oak Lake
(self-produced, 2001)

There must be something about Canadian performers that sound just a little bit country. While the stereotype is that all country/folk-sounding musicians must come from the American South, Tannis Slimmon, from the Canadian prairie, has just the right amount of alt-country feel to her brand of folk music to make her transcend musical stereotypes and make a name for herself.

"Maisy Go Round" is an excellent example of Slimmon's good-feeling alt-country sound. Slimmon, who grew up on a Manitoba farm (in the town of Oak Lake), probably has the first-hand knowledge of the sort of dance the song gleefully describes. However, the song has a certain timelessness that recalls Willa Cather's stories of the American prairie. With acoustic instruments backing her on this track, she could be singing about a dance held last week or one that took place last century.

That sort of timeless quality is the thread that ties together the entire disc. Slimmon wrote or co-wrote nine of the ten songs on this debut CD. (The only song she didn't write is the closing track, "My Body Moves," a fun, quasi-Latin beat number written by one of her musical partners.) While the lyrics aren't anything to write home about, it's the music and Slimmon's exquisite voice that stand out. Take "There's a Lift" as a case in point. The lyrics are relatively simple ("There's a feeling that I get when nothing's going wrong/I want it always to be that way"), but the gentle rhythm, assisted by acoustic guitars, mandolin and accordion, along with the vocals, "lift" the song along and make it quite uplifting indeed. Slimmon's voice just seems so positive on it -- as if nothing can go wrong.

Slimmon likes providing harmonies for her material. Her own voice provides effective backing vocals on songs such as "What to Do" and "A Miracle" (on which she also sounds reminiscent of Bonnie Raitt), but she also employs other friends to sing with her, including an entire choir backing her on "There's a Lift." Rebecca Campbell's voice blends effectively with Slimmon's on "It's Quite a Job," probably the most rock-oriented number on the disc.

Although Oak Lake is an independently released debut, it has the polish one might expect from a major label -- minus the overproduction that often accompanies such albums. Slimmon performs these songs as if they truly mean something to her; it's obvious a lot of love and care was spent making this record. Although it's not a perfect effort (the trumpet on "Starting Now" is rather annoying overkill), it's a strong release. Canadian roots and rock music has a formidable contender here.

[ by Ellen Rawson ]
Rambles: 7 September 2002