Published Oct 23, 2018A kayaker, theatre artist, and one half of the Winnipeg folk duo (and twin-ship) Roger Roger, Madeleine Roger knows how to extend herself to gain momentum, and how to project her verity into the world. This — as well as her relationship to forces outside herself — is clear on her debut solo record, Cottonwood.
One of the joys of encountering a foray into solo artistry is having the chance to hear an artist's personal take on the world: music wrapped in their unique reality. There is no doubt that Roger has delved within herself to bring us Cottonwood, but she also reaches out to a Canadian canon of folk music. She draws influence from Joni Mitchell on the twisting melodic vocals and gentle acoustic plucking of "Soldier Song," then brings a bigger, more emotive groove that evokes a pared-back Kathleen Edwards on "Rough Hand."
Don't let the lineage pull from the modern nuance of the songwriting. The surface-level feminism of "60 Years More" cuts with hard-edged poetry: "I'm just a girl, haven't got a clue, somebody fill me in where a man got to," she sings, then later adds, heartbreakingly, "You don't have to say what you already show. / I was worthless, I was worthless, I was worthless." Bringing her word to action, Roger's Cottonwood was made with gender parity, meaning that half the producing, audio engineering, musicians and other artists identify as female.
Roger presents the beauty of the world alongside the storminess. "Take My Time" — her own personal manifesto — was written at a cabin built by her great-grandparents in Manitoba, and you can feel this relaxation within the natural again on the sunny and gentle "Cottonwood." But there is storm here too. "Lady Luck" uses strings and layers to create tension, while the lyrics draw images of wind and rain. If the clarinet trill on "Luckiest" feels like a gimmick, it's only because so much of this album plays wholly authentic.
Cottonwood is a glimpse into the machinations of someone who is attentive to the world around her: in the wilderness, on stage, in the present moment and in the past. It is thoughtfulness made concrete. (Independent)