I have too many CDs.
Recently, I did what I consider to be an especially brutal cull, forsaking sentiment in the name of tossing some long-forgotten discs in the trash, bringing others to the Sally Ann and arranging still more in coffin-like shoeboxes destined for the basement, lest there should one day be a need for those Patti Smith bootlegs or Rivers Cuomo demos. The idea was to leave the office — the storeroom for CDs of note — with only discs of value. Things I could conceivably listen to, were I to listen to CDs anytime soon.
So when singer and songwriter Megan Hamilton got in touch recently about her long-overdue return to recording, I briefly wondered whether her three charming previous releases had made the cut.
Megan Hamilton and I are old friends. (It says so on Facebook!) And it’s a friendship born, on my end, of admiration for a truly distinctive artist, a lyricist gifted at crafting narratives that hit the listener as poetic stream-of-consciousness observations. Things like: “On his pant leg the cat leaves a trail of her fur / Hear the room buzz with purrs and the lingering / Words / Are the birds caught in the trees? / Did winter come?” All this, set to the gentlest of restrained melodic backing.
Hamilton released three such gems during the latter half of the 21st Century’s first decade. The third, 2009’s See Your Midnight Breath in the Shipyard, found the sufficiently overflowing with confidence to allow in a full-on rock and roll band that occasionally had to be shouted down somewhat. The effect was no less hypnotic for it. Indeed, writers and critics who prophesize with their pens predicted great things for the Torontonian late bloomer. (Hamilton first picked up a guitar while in her mid-twenties.)
A few great things did follow, Hamilton confirms. But stardom failed to beckon.
“We had a few bits of bad luck around the release,” Hamilton recalls, “and that felt frustrating. It is so much work, and it felt like it sort of stopped flat. That was difficult. Like, on our first round of touring, there was just a bunch of stuff — like, our guitar player had a herniated disc, so I had to do the rest of the tour solo. It was one of those situations where whatever could go wrong, along with all of these other things you could never have possibly anticipated would go wrong, would go wrong. A lot of it was personal feelings, like where I thought I was supposed to be at, where this whole thing could take me. I didn’t feel like I was where I’d wanted to be.
“I have come to realize that’s not a good way to look at things. You’re always going to be disappointed. It’s like when you’re in your teens and you think, ‘I’ll be married by the time I’m 30, for sure.’ And that doesn’t always happen. Does that mean you feel badly about yourself, or do you just do a reassessment of what you actually have done and set realistic goals from there?”
Enter the reassessment enabler that is Wakefield, Que., a town that has left its mark on many a visitor.
“I was finding Toronto to be a difficult place to navigate at that point,” Hamilton says of life after that ill-fated album and tour. “I think I was starting to feel disconnected from it. In retrospect that’s probably more me than anything else. But while on tour we were driving into Wakefield and both Ben [McLean, husband] and me looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s move here!’ That was new.” Ultimately, the couple chose Kingston over Wakefield, for logistical reasons. (“We were sort of like, ‘What would we do?’ We could… open a bar… start an organic farm…”)
“I was,” she concludes, “just looking for change. I like new adventures.” More were to come, notably in the form of motherhood. Music, then, was put on hold. For four years.
Earlier this year, Hamilton contacted fellow parent Jim Bryson to see whether Ottawa’s singer-songwriter extraordinaire would be willing to work with her as producer on new material. Bryson had already been getting his production hands dirty by working with Oh Susanna on a forthcoming release. Bringing in guests that included members of the Kingston Symphony, Bryson, worked to bring out the best in three emotive Hamilton compositions, for an EP released last month. Snow Moon finds Hamilton crooning her way through three slow to mid-tempo originals, headed by the irresistible Tuesdays are the Loneliest Nights. Lyrically, she continues to skillfully meld the confessional to the obscure — “You never uttered no, anyhow / Even at your agnostic worst,” she charges in one song of “romance wrestling with regret.”
Welcome back, Megan Hamilton. You’ve been missed.
And welcome back to Wakefield, where Hamilton will be performing Sunday, Sept. 22, in the company of bassist Alison Gowan and violinist Danielle Lennon. The set of songs new and old will, Hamilton promises, feature “lots of three-part harmonies and lots of string parts.” All part of the change and reassessment that have propelled a refreshingly reactivated career.
“I needed that gradual transition back into things,” she says of the three-track teaser that is Snow Moon. “When I was originally forming the idea of putting out another recording I had it all set so it was going to be a totally new thing. I had this idea that if I just changed everything — if I had a new name [Snow Moon] and a new approach — it would be a completely different thing. But then I realized that it’s not. It’s all the same. There are different directions, but you’re still carrying the 10 years behind you that you’ve been doing things. And that’s okay too. Maybe I was being really reactionary to something.”
“I take a more relaxed approach now, which definitely has been among my goals. And finding joy. Finding the fun again. I mean, there’s stuff I stress about and I think everyone does. Like, are we going to get people to the shows? That’s usually my main source of stress. I just want people to come. But aside from that, it is fun again. It’s a pleasure to do. And I think I’ll take on what I can take on.”
Funny. That’s exactly how I view my CD collection. And I’m pleased to have Megan Hamilton as a part of it.