Breakups are never easy. We fight, we reconcile, we hope and finally we find our own ways to grieve what is lost. For singer/songwriter Amanda Rheaume, this emotional process is writ large on her wonderful new album Holding Patterns.
What if I grew my hair?/What if I was more careful?/Would you notice me?
It’s a simple yet powerful cri du coeur from a lover struggling to understand and navigate the end. The song is called “Get to the Part,” and it’s the perfect opener for Rheaume’s thoughtful and beautifully crafted musical analysis of what went wrong.
“It really is something very new for me,” Rheaume says. “This record has songs very specifically about ex-girlfriends. I’ve always written about my life and myself, but this is a lot more personal for sure.”
Deeply personal, but free of any mawkish sentiment or self-pity. Instead, there’s the sense of a woman taking stock of her own culpability, as in her song “Dead Horse”:
I never learned my lesson, I never told the truth/I never kept a promise or made the time for you/There’s no points for trying, can’t seem to get it right
“I love singing ‘Dead Horse,’” Rheaume says. “I know that sounds so fucked up, because the song’s about a failed relationship. But I think many people can relate to staying in something for too long because you can’t get out or don’t know how. So that one’s about two people hanging on to something for too long.”
It’s also a belated offering to the woman who waited for her songwriting partner to dedicate a piece to their love. “An ex would ask, ‘Why don’t you write me a song? I’m your girlfriend?’ It was cute at the time, but it was also very telling. Why am I not writing a lovey-dovey song about my girlfriend?”
Rheaume’s been open about her own sexuality for quite some time, but Holding Patterns does seem to wade into LGBT territory more confidently than her previous albums, Keep a Fire and Light of Another Day. (There’s also a lovely holiday CD called Acoustic Christmas.)
“I feel a lot more open and comfortable in my skin,” she says. “I feel just sort of ready to be more available in all ways, and I think that’s also reflected in my writing.”
For fans of the previous albums, Holding Patterns will hold no disappointments; there’s still the enticing acoustic folk/roots sound, with plenty of hooks and clever turns of phrase. And there’s also the honouring of heritage that the Ottawa-based Métis songwriter has proudly and poignantly explored in her work.
Perhaps the most powerful tribute yet is Rheaume’s song “Red Dress,” a lament for the more than 1,180 murdered and missing Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada:
I never wanted to be a drifter/I am a woman with no worth/Somewhere I learned to say I was sorry
Rheaume and co-writer Jim Bryson drew inspiration for the song from the Red Dress Project, artist Jaime Black’s installation of 600 red dresses in public spaces as a visual reminder of the gendered and racialized nature of violent crimes against Aboriginal women. Rheaume’s friend and fellow musician Chantal Kreviazuk loved the song and lent her voice to the recording, with proceeds going to the Native Women’s Association of Canada, Safety and Violence Program.
“It took me a long time to know how to write ‘Red Dress,’” Rheaume says. “The subject matter is quite grim and sad, and speaks to victim-blaming and how a lot of these women are still disrespected even after they’re gone.
“So we need to understand the reasons why this happens. We need to understand the effects of colonialism, and how indigenous women lots of a lot of rights and respect as a result. We need to make our way back to truth and healing.”