Perhaps the most nomadic musician we know, Orit Shimoni lives nowhere and everywhere. For ten years, Shimoni has relied on a network of fans and friends as she criss-crosses her native Canada on train and bus to sing and then sleep wherever she is offered a bed or even a space on a floor. It’s a measure of her fan base that she has even ventured many times to mainland Europe similarly relying on the kindness of strangers, fans and friends. Lockdown caught her in Winnipeg where she’s living in a basement, possibly her most permanent residence for several years, but several months earlier she took some time out in Toronto to record Strange And Beautiful Things with a fine bunch of musicians. The result is the most fully realised recording she has released since her days in Little Birdie, with the band (and especially the use of trumpet and harmony vocals) creating a sumptuous surround sound for her always excellent voice.
Shimoni opens the album with the seemingly lightweight New Orleans jazz of the title song. It’s an immediately likeable number as the band skip in after her countdown but then she sings, “Look around, all you see are constellations, Patterns of abuse and patterns of migration. Following the stars, trying to hide their scars…,” and the song takes a different trajectory from the hummable ditty one might expect. Ultimately it’s an optimistic number as Shimoni accepts the duality of life and has decided to grasp onto the strange and beautiful things she has encountered.
The sunny aspect of the opening number is a bit of an anomaly as the remainder of the album is a mix of smouldering bluesy ruminations with brief excursions into country and folk. Shimoni has said that most of the songs here were written over several years but saved for recording with full band arrangements. A listen to the late night neon slicked Song For Townes is enlightening for those who know the sparer version (on Lost And Found On The Road To Nowhere). Written by Shimoni as she slept over in a room once used by Van Zandt, the song, another written around duality, this time God and The Devil fighting for the songwriter’s muse, is impressive in both formats but here it’s infused with a dark and dramatic majesty recalling the likes of the Cowboy Junkies. In similar fashion there’s the slow rumble of Keep On Running, the string laden slow waltz of Delicate Times and the late night swoon of Sharp Tongued Girls but Shimoni then recalls the airy rhymes of Laura Cantrell on the pedal steel sweetened George Street and even pumps things up for the Elvis Costello like Sally.
The final two songs are simpler in delivery and serve to remind one that Shimoni is a powerful performer. One Voice has her assisted by basic bass and rumbling percussion as she sings of a lonely existence. Sweet By And By is simply superb as she sings wonderfully over a simple folk melody -a perfect campfire moment with laidback solos and lovely harmony singing – her voice full of emotion and soul as she evokes gospel music in a cowboy setting.
Over the course of ten albums, Orit Shimoni never fails to impress but Strange And Beautiful Things might be her best yet and it deserves to be heard far and wide.