Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Music review: Madison Violet – No Fool for Trying

Staying true to their roots, with smooth harmonies & a folk edge

A year ago Xtra spoke to Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac, aka Madison Violet, about their media coming out, their name change (from Madviolet) and the process of writing their third disc. They promised the new CD would be a stripped-down, acoustically driven affair that explored sadness, love and loss while remaining hopeful.

Since then the couple has toured Europe extensively, signed with Canada’s oldest indie music label True North (which represents Gordon Lightfoot and Hunter Valentine among countless others) and they delivered on their promise. Madison Violet’s newest CD No Fool for Trying navigates its way through some heavy-hearted subject matter while keeping its sound buoyant.

While working on No Fool’s graphic design I was privy to the process of this release coming together and can say the extra time (this disc was initially due out last summer) refined the album into a tighter musical offering — well worth the wait and well worth the ticket price to see performed live. No Fool reintroduces MacEachern and MacIsaac as roots artists who can hold their own next to heavy hitters in the genre.

No Fool for Trying is Lucinda Williams-esque, but where Williams warbles off with the cool edge of the electric guitar, straining her voice in a more bluesy direction Madison Violet remains acoustic, warming things up with strings (standup bass, violin, mandolin and banjo), smooth harmonies and a folk edge.

This album leads off road-weary with “Ransom” as Mac-Eachern and MacIsaac sing, “The money ain’t coming in like I hoped/ And all this smoke / Is like a hammer in my throat/ It’s only rock and roll/ With a sold-out show/ Darlin’ please/ Can we go home?”

The heaviest point on this disc is the gut-wrenching “Woodshop,” a quiet, snapshot of a grieving family. It uses ordinary moments to reveal the true impact of loss with affective vulnerability. “Your mother sets the table/ One less cup/ It’s tearing out her heart/ Dust to dust and ashes 52.”

Tracks like “Baby in the Black and White” and “Best Part of your Love” give a nice little nod to the duo’s country roots. While “Lauralee,” a wee ditty reminiscent of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” picks up the pace — it’s a back-porch banjo, toe-tapping crowd-pleaser for sure.

Fittingly though it’s the title track that best encapsulates the tone of the album as a whole. The slow, gentle mandolin intro nudges ahead with the standup bass and a train-paced rhythm that opens up into big, beautiful, uplifting harmonies. Gorgeous.

Madison Violet fans will notice the absence of an expansive pop sound. Instead No Fool is delicately constructed with the plucking, bowing and striking of strings, soaring vocals and subtle drumming. An agile example of musical restraint. What emerges is a more intimate and genuinely heartfelt collection of songs in line with past favourites like “Left Foot” and “Sore Heart.”

It’s a perfect morning album. Tender and contemplative No Fool for Trying will ease you into your day at a saunter. A stunning follow-up to Caravan; the girls’ most mature and moving offering yet.

Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac launch Madison Violet’s new CD with a concert at Hugh’s Room (2261 Dundas St W) at 8:30pm on Thu, Jun 18 featuring Lisa’s brother Ashley MacIsaac as guest. Tix are $17 in advance and $20 doors; call (416) 531-6604 or go to Madisonviolet.com.