The rare poetic orchids of Smoke Lake, conceived of memory and dream, birthed in solitude and sanctuary, nurtured by bone and breath and blood and soul surrounded by nature and ancestry, are set before us by Kaleigh Watts as gentle dona spiritus naturae to breathe in and …to savour.
Having been taken in by Kaleigh’s pensive single release, Ophelia, I presumed that her debut album would continue as such but, the informal craft of Smoke Lake, bereft of post-production, embraces a simple elegance which is eloquent, elegiac, and that, at times, arrives nakedly visceral.
Ambient sounds of her Algonquin Park sanctum suffuse melodies and verse throughout, such as the stepped-on crush of twig and forest floor on The Hunt or the cabin roof rain encasing Savour, the love song which opens the album.
In contrast to the melancholic surrender to fate of Ophelia, here there appears a lover – one implored to become the ‘saviour’, the one who “…takes her from the rupture she calls home” and be her ocean, “…the water she survives on“. This lover is beseeched to…
Savour, savour that sultry shiver
That formulates your reasons for intrigue
Savour, savour that numbing flavour
That your bones feel lying next to me
That your bones feel lying next to me
That my bones feel lying with the sea
Like wood nymphs glancing from behind a cedar, singular backgound vocals by Gabrielle Giguere (Her Harbour) or Swiss minature bells or the hum of a bowed fishbowl (all also Gabrielle) appear unexpectedly, delightfully, glazing and stippling Kaleigh’s warm alto voice, as well as the colours of her chosen instrument, be it acoustic guitar, piano or Wurlitzer electric piano.
In The Attic engages as a love song as well, though of a different sort – the love of a house, solid but weathered by time and history that others reject as “…Most of them come then drive away“. To Kaleigh, this house is “…my place to stray” but, she is not alone here, for in this house “Your ghost sits with me…” though she must seek him out for their “…appointments frequent in the attic“.
Solitude, refuge and retreat permeate Smoke Lake, as does the temperment of an artist who seeks naught but depth and breadth of emotion, experience and inspiration. As with the cold glacial lake which is her companion and solace, there is the mirror surface to Kaleigh’s compositions… and the deep currents and denizens of its ancient waters echoing the dark pool of Mnemosyne.
Woed woman she weeps by the water
And waters the weeds down below
And they grow and they grow and they grow
They grow and they grow and they grow
(Weeds Never Die)
Mesmerizing. Enigmatic. Cryptic. Neither of these words adequately characterize Weeds Never Die. With lines such as “…as soon as she hears she rains tadpoles of tears” and “God gauge me a gut that’s glued straight and shut…“, I approach the feel, or the sense of, the fear, despair, and pain of this “Woed woman” (woed meaning ‘word’ or ‘rage’), but this song’s depth, its intrinsic import, eludes me.
I am mesmerized, mystified, ensorcelled, and eternally haunted by this song.
As the crackling of twigs and underbrush subsides, a single baleful sustained tone emerges periodically impaled by forsaken piano notes. So begins The Hunt where “The hunters are haunting and hunting the hunted…“. Are they hunting that whose “…gears turn close in distance” while the “…gatherers they hustle“? Augural arpeggios, pouncing chords, and etheral background vocals shatter the stalking steps of the composition, only to cease, then stalk again softly, quietly… to terminate on a single low ominous fading note.
The title song concludes the album, this hymnal, as if a return to the cathedral of its inspiration. It is as a prayer, an offering from the artist, to the repository of her memories, her passion, her purpose, and her art. It is the temple when her “…wings first moved within the bay“. In essence, Kaleigh’s art was born here and…
When I am old and can no longer speak
Bring me to your wood to be in your peace
Lay down my bones upon your shore
Let the smoke hover over and swallow me whole
The song closes. We hear Kaleigh rise, set her guitar down. We follow her out the door and down to the wharf anchoring the shore to these waters which have infused her, and this album, with the power, grace and devotion to be written as mystical runes on an venerable soul.
We stand on the wharf beside Kaleigh Watts gazing silently out across the “…currents navy and grey” into the mysts, and the magic, that is… Smoke Lake.
You may purchase Smoke Lake here ⇒