Canadian singer-songwriters JD Edwards and Cara Luft are The Small Glories, a moreish folk-roots duo with sounds ranging from contemporary Stomp and Holler to traditional Americana (or should I say Canadiana?). Accidentally meeting at a folk gig in their home city of Winnipeg, they were told by a mutual friend to sing together and the rest is history; now spending most of their time travelling to different folk festivals around the world.
Walking into the small, intimate theatre of Seven Artspace in Leeds there were under 100 people waiting eagerly in the stalls for the duo to emerge. The first thing you noticed from these musicians is that they are not only capable to talk to the crowd but clearly enjoy doing so. With personal stories of touring around the world, eating banjo-shaped cakes made by fans and doing ‘song-writing retreats’, the evening was more than just a back to back playing of their album. Before each song they talked to the audience about its story, not just what the song means in itself but the creative process behind it, adding an extra dimension to each track.
With a sophomore album being released later this year, The Small Glories played songs from their debut record Wondrous Traveller (2016) and several covers from famous folk names with a refreshing version of Billy Bragg’s ‘Way Over Yonder in a Minor Key’ as a stand out favourite with the crowd. Luft’s skilled banjo ability and Edwards’ raspy vocals were infectious, and their voices blended effortlessly into warm harmonies that transported you to the American South.
Appearing on their first album, popular track ‘Had I Paid’ brought an upbeat sound of Stomp and Holler folk, a style that followed the energy of bands such as The Lumineers or The Lone Bellow. But then songs such as ‘Holding On’, written by Luft about a lost love, silenced the audience with its haunting melody and raw lyrics leaving the crowd in an entranced state eager for more. The duo’s songs always seem to tell a story or describe a place or feeling and, unlike many musicians, their lyrics don’t get lost in the sea of sound but rather stand out and draw you into their personal experiences.
And the word ‘personal’ is what sums up both The Small Glories and this gig. In the interval – yes, the interval – the energy was great. Instead of heading backstage away from the crowd, both Edwards and Luft came to their little stall of merch and started chatting to everyone as they went to get another beer. Signing albums then and there, the Canadians seemed more interested in the people they were talking to and their stories than selling anything, a humbling sight to see.
Ironically, for an album called Wondrous Traveller, their songs often involve nostalgic images of home. Whether that’s through their imagery of the Canadian Rockies or where they live now with songs wholeheartedly dedicated to Winnipeg.
With under one thousand listeners per month on Spotify, this Canadian duo can sometimes sink under the radar of dabbling Americana fans, but they are certainly not to be missed. In the interval, Luft was surprised when she saw me and jokingly said “I think you’ve brought the average age down here considerably!”. Thinking about it, there were indeed few people under the age of 40 and for a night of good music, conversation and storytelling, I am still confused why.By Max Haydon