“Can I ruin this moment by telling you I’m about to order a coffee at Tim Horton’s right now?”
Yes, yes you may.
But only because you’re Belle Plaine (a.k.a. Saskatchewan artist Melanie Hankewich) and the moment was myself telling you that your new album Malice, Mercy, Grief and Wrath is one of the most wonderful things I’ve heard this year.
We can pause that gushing in order for you to get yourself a small, double cream and an everything bagel with cream cheese.
“So anyway you were fawning over my album?”
Hard not to. The record, which will be released Friday, Oct. 19 is a alt-country stunner, with Plaine’s pretty, plaintive, prairie purr wisping its way through delicate twangers crafted by her and her band featuring Jeremy Sauer on keys, bassist Elizabeth Curry, drummer Steve Leidal and guitarist Bryce Lewis.
The singer is quick to heap praise on them, in large part because they’ve helped her deftly transition for the jazz artist she started her musical journey as, releasing the swinging Notes From A Waitress in 2012.
She hinted at where she was headed in 2016, with the live album The Unrequited Love — an album she describes as “a connector between the jazz album and what I wanted to do next” — before planting her flag fully in the field with Malice, Mercy, Grief and Wrath, which was recorded at Regina’s Studio One with producer Jason Plumb (of The Waltons fame).
“I’m really lucky that I have these great musicians who are able to switch between country and jazz,” she says, before noting that her Wide Cut show Saturday night at the King Eddy will feature most of her new songs while also dipping back into her musical past.
Some of the many highlights include the Link Wray-referencing Golden Ring, which is about her late parents and their breakup, her understanding later as an adult the “turmoil” of separation and breakups, and Laila Sady Johnson Wasn’t Beaten By No Train, which is a perfect country storytelling tune about, well, about exactly what it says it’s about.
“Yeah, that’s a true story — that’s about my grandmother,” Plaine says.
According to family lore and told in the song, in the ’80s, her grandmother was going out to check on her potato patch in her truck, “got distracted by a berry patch and went across the train tracks without seeing that there was a train there.”
She laughs. “My grandmother is 88 now and just a total badass.
“I wanted to write some songs that something for my family. My family has always been really supportive and I wanted to honour them in ways that I could find, honour who they were. And it’s not always — there are songs on the album that aren’t as celebratory, I guess, that deal with other themes and other familiar difficult things.”
Perhaps the standout track among the bunch, the one that many might gravitate towards, is the cheeky, rollicking singalong Is It Cheating.
With a chorus that asks the eternal questions, “Is it cheating if you don’t get laid?/Is it dealing if you don’t get paid,” it’s likely to be a live, fan favourite.
“That song is so old,” she says and laughs again. “It took me so long to be convinced to put it on a record.
“I’m very serious about myself and that song is not very serious.”
Helping out, likely, will be the added star power of fellow Sasky singer Colter Wall.
It’s the continuation of a collaborative relationship, with Plaine having lent her vocals to Wall’s first album.
Interestingly, he just dropped his latest Songs of the Plains on Sony this past Friday and will hit Calgary for a MacEwan Hall show next Friday, the very same day hers lands.
The notion that there’s any competition between the two, even a friendly one, is quickly dismissed by Plaine, who’s happy for all of the good things that are coming her friend’s way.
“It’s really easy sometimes to get cranky about, it’s mostly about what I think I deserve that I’m not getting,” she says. “That’s a really dead-end attitude. It’s been a lot more beneficial for me to look at what my friends are doing and the successes that they’re getting, the agents that they’re signed with — like I’m doing everything on my own so the idea that out there I could have somebody booking my gigs and handling the advancing on tour, all that kind of stuff, that’s really exciting to look forward to. And there’s really no point in getting cranky about the fact that someone else has it and I don’t.
“So the competitive aspect I try to keep as like how can I work better or do better, treat people better instead of having it rear an envious head.”
Still. Her album’s better.
She laughs. “If you can write that in your article,” she says. “That’s your opinion.”
(Photo courtesy Carey Shaw.)
Belle Plaine performs Saturday, Oct. 13 at the King Eddy as part of Wide Cut Weekend. For tickets and information, please go to https://widecutweekend.com.