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Dance card

Dave Carmichael used time away and Joni Mitchell’s influence to help craft his new album, Spirit Dance. Chris McCluskey gets into it.

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Honesty is an attempt at which people often fall short. While searching to find the perfect terms and expressions, authenticity erodes and meaning is sacrificed in translation. With his third album, Spirit Dance, roots musician Dave Carmichael has composed 11 songs with the approach that what we want to say is always right on the tip of our tongues. He explains the title of the record characterizes the songs perfectly.

“Varying degrees of matters of the spirit, you might say,” Carmichael says of his headspace during the writing of his third album. “The overall theme was, you know, the question of love in all its different forms. That’s what a lot of these songs are about. There are quite a few different genres, but I think there’s a through line, which is basically, you know, me.”

Carmichael’s first album in five years is undeniably a sentimental effort, chronicling the artist’s good fortune after leaving Halifax for two years. Spirit Dance, featuring a prominent cowboy vibe and hints of bluegrass, could be accurately described as a snapshot of its conceiver’s coming of age, with lyrics that are honest and meaningful. After spending some quality time where he grew up in Ottawa, he returned last winter. The hiatus—both from recording and from living in his adopted hometown—have been nothing but positive.

“I had been in here for five or six years, released a couple of records, went through the whole…I just wanted to get away actually. I had left here knowing that I was going to a new area where nobody really knew me. I had to sort of start over, which was exciting for me at the time,” he says. “While away I met, sort of like the girl of my dreams or whatever, and that heavily influenced my life, obviously. And when I did think I had enough material to start in earnest on this album, I wanted to come back here and do this because it’s sort of a homecoming, I have more connections here, and it just seemed to make sense.”

The woman he speaks of is Melissa Trottier, who performs vocals on the record. Carmichael’s return to Halifax coincided with his gal taking a break of her own last winter in New Zealand.

“We were on opposite ends of the world, basically, and still connected,” says Carmichael. “That kind of became a theme. ‘Spirit Dance,’ ‘Forever,’ ‘Beautifully Simple’…these are all songs directly written with that in mind.”

Trottier wasn’t the only musician invited to lend talent to Spirit Dance, which was originally released in September. Twelve artists appear on the record—performing various duties—including multi-instrumentalist Jamie Robinson, Hot Toddy upright bassist Tom Easley, The Heavy Blinkers’ clarinet player Dave Christensen and vocalist Jill Barber. Carmichael says the idea behind choosing a diverse range of musicians was a conscious departure.

“The idea is Spirit Dance was to be a very acoustic album, which it is compared to my previous recordings,” he says. “Because the idea was to do an acoustic record, I figured upright bass would be good.”

Experiences in Carmichael’s life have a penchant for overlapping with one another, and the actual recording process of the album was no exception. The guitarist was chosen as the musical director of Joni Mitchell: River at Festival Antigonish last summer. The engagement, billed as a retrospective of the Canadian icon’s career, featured three actors as well as Christensen and Carmichael playing the instruments.

“It was daunting, all these lush arrangements that she has on her records and everything,” he says. “And then having sort of all of these songs, just seeing how different tunings came into her writing. I ended up…there are four different tunings on my record.”

Carmichael says Mitchell is more of an inspiration to the record outside of her guitar preferences.

“She’s always been a source of inspiration to me lyrically because she paints beautiful pictures and images. Her unfaltering dedication to her art, she never seemed to be dictated by market shares or target audiences, she always followed her muse,” he says. “What is being produced, in my case this album, and any album that Joni ever did, was never dictated by outside forces.”

Dave Carmichael CD release, December 15 at Stage Nine, Grafton at Blowers, 7:30pm, $5, 444-7801.

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