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Love Was Here First
Artist: Carolyn Arends
Label: independent (
Time: 11 tracks / 61 mins

Arends calls this her “Four-seasons-in-one-day album,” as it ranges in mood from the bouncy playfulness of “Roll It” to the more introspective “Willing” via the scripturally-based “Nothing Can Separate”. It is in many ways about the love of God, but its emotional range also reflects the chaos of life that can happen when you have both children and ageing parents to look after, while pursuing various projects of your own.

“Roll It” comes from the New Orleans end of Americana (if the phrase can be used for a Canadian). Even though I prefer her more serious tracks, I have to admit how well this is done, with help from the Sojourners on backing vocals and some tasty mandolin and fiddle work. Both the Sojourners’ contribution and several tracks featuring a full brass section are new departures for Arends and they are used well to expand her sound without crowding it. As always, she creates a clean, uncluttered feel, choosing to use different sounds, rather than extra ones, to tone her music. Not for the first time, she tackles a classic and makes it her own when she covers “Standing in the Need of Prayer.” The arrangement is beautiful; a mosaic of mandolin, tremolo guitar and the Sojourners, while she plays the dynamic range with chunky, resonant bass set against flicks of guitar harmonics. But gorgeous as this track sounds, as I enjoy the simplicity of “Never Say Goodbye” I know that when she sings thoughtful, contemplative lyrics, I could enjoy a whole album of her simply singing unplugged.

Other than “Standing,” songs that top the list for me are those that use her incisive lyrical skill, often when she is wondering aloud. So her best work in my book was her last album, Pollyanna’s Attic , which was a collection of darker songs. She was writing thoughtful and heart-touching work even before she started her Master’s Degree in theology, and the flow of honest, thought-provoking and stirring work has carried on unabated. So we get a treatise here on God’s redemptive work in “According to Plan,” which wrestles with exactly how much God plans life, and how much things are left to us. There is more thought on redemption in the slightly Greek-toned “Something Out of Us,” where the whole batch of lyrics is a treat, not just the chorus: “You make cosmos out of chaos / You made Adam out of dust / You made wine out of the water / You make something out of us.”

I also love some of her single lines here, like “I’ll send the guards away that keep my heart” and “I am a sucker for my favorite lie that you don’t have to die to live the resurrection,” an idea that she expands across “The Lie” (which also has some enjoyable guitar work).

But why read my thoughts, when you can have your own? The album is currently streaming at Arends is one of the most observant and deft songwriters out there, who seamlessly links biblical material with everyday living, and her work simply has to be investigated.

Derek Walker


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