Regina-based prairie sweethearts Belle Plaine and Blake Berglund are gearing up to release a country/folk music double-single, gold-toned vinyl record next month and are hitting the road to support the project. They perform Sept. 7th at Fratters.
The release beautifully pays homage to fellow Saskatchewan songwriter Zachary Lucky. The couple recorded two tracks from Lucky’s catalogue – Town to Town and Saskatchewan.
All copies of the limited edition vinyl are expected to sell during the tour, which covers western Canada. The singles will also be available via iTunes. The recordings were produced by former frontman of The Waltons Jason Plumb.
“Blake and I were in Kansas City in 2014 for an event called Folk Alliance International,” explains Plaine. “It gets people from all over North America together – it’s a showcase event, it’s a conference event – it’s an incredible thing to go to make connections with people from all over North America,” she explains. “And we found ourselves getting to know western Canadian musicians that we had heard of, or were just hearing of there.
“We were watching Zachary play – he’s so hardworking, he’s from Saskatoon, he’s prolific and so talented. I leaned over and said to Blake, we should be singing this song! We were just starting to sing together and we were writing together and we were looking for material that suited us.
“Saskatchewan is about being home, and Town to Town is about traveling and being all over the country.”
Berglund agrees. “It was fun to interpret his material because he is such a strong writer.”
Meanwhile, listening to Plaine and Berglund it’s very clear these two are such a natural, engaging blend in terms of their artistry. Both songs bubble over with a charming authenticity and warmth. Not to mention their work as individual artists, which continues to attract new fans and define them as noteworthy artist in their own right.
“It’s become something where I can jump in on a lot of Blake’s sets and sing back-up for him – so it’s been really good for me as a musician,” explains Plaine of the collaboration.
“It’s been really great to see how another band works and also having such a positive experience from growing and learning.”
As for their live shows, Plaine and Berglund will each perform a set with their own sideplayers – Elizabeth Curry on bass and Jeremy Sauer on keys for Plaine and Bryce Lewis on guitar for Berglund.
To close each, the ensemble will come together for a selection of duets including Town to Town and Saskatchewan from the co-release, Kris Kristofferson’s Chase The Feeling, and Ian & Sylvia’s Summer Wages.
“We’ve become so integrated in each other’s writing processes, and our bands have become so integrated in each other’s songs, that it works really well,” explains Berglund.
Plaine agrees, adding that it really is structured around the overall flow and honouring the songs. “That’s how both of us work in constructing a set list – also thinking about the spaces between the songs and what kind of stories can be told,” she said. “For those two hours with an audience, you want that time to feel like it’s time they don’t even know is passing. That’s at the heart of what we are doing. That’s our objective – to give people something that takes them out of their own lives for a couple hours.”
Plaine has one of those gorgeous and extraordinarily rare voices that is pretty much instantly addictive. Over the years, her tunes have percolated with jazz, pop and old-fashioned country richness.
Raised in the farming community of Fosston, Saskatchewan, her distinctive sound draws on a wide-ranging musical background, including years of professional training (formal study at MacEwan University) and performances stretching back to her youth.
Plaine’s voice lends itself to various styles, from outlaw country to 1940s swing, adding a smoky, sultry touch to every song she sings. Her debut CD Notes From A Waitress earned the number three position on the earshot National Jazz Chart and number one on Edmonton, Ottawa and Lethbridge Jazz charts in early 2012.
At 18, she knew she wanted to write songs, perform and have a home recording studio. But when she moved to Edmonton to study jazz, her focus shifted toward a more technical aspect of music: sound recording. After graduation, she worked in a Calgary studio.
Eager for change, she enrolled at the University of Victoria as an environmental science major. Having fallen in love with Victoria’s arts community she dropped out of school.
She later found herself in Sydney, Australia for a stint and the creativity continued to grow. In 2006, she returned to Saskatchewan and found a home in Regina’s arts community.
Berglund’s fresh style of country has been described as unpredictable, intelligent and genuine. His love for music stretches back to his younger days, as he recalls his grandfather always carrying a harmonica around with him.
Berglund also took piano lessons over his growing up years, and then eventually discovered the guitar. As mentioned, he went on to explore a number of genres before finding his niche in music that follows a country/folk sensibility. But Berglund, like Plaine, can’t be strictly categorized when it comes to style. That attribute in itself fuels their overall charm as outstanding artists who aren’t wary of continued sonic exploration.
“I come from a cowboy culture – I guess when it became my turn to go in that direction I chose music as opposed to rodeo. So it was great to come back ‘full circle’ and really care about cowboy culture again with everything I learned from being on the road for seven years as an independent rock musician.”
Over the years, Berglund has released four CDs – 2007’s Blake Berglund & Kennedy Rodeo, Ends of the Earth (2010), Coyote (2012) and Jasper (2014).
He earned an Independent Music Award in 2010, was granted Rawlco Radio’s 10K20 Bursary in 2013 and was named Roots Artist of the Year at the 2013 Saskatchewan Country Music Association Awards.
Berglund’s authentic songwriting and stage show also landed him showcasing opportunities at the 2012 Breakout West Festival, the 2012 Canadian Country Music Awards, and the 2013 Canadian Music Week Festival.
Meanwhile, Plumb, who again produced the latest project, speaks warmly about the pair.
“I’ve been a fan of both Blake and Belle for quite some time,” he explained. “After seeing their live performance, I couldn’t wait to get them in the studio together. It’s always interesting when songwriters choose to record another artist’s material. The art is in the interpretation. And with these two, you can hear their chemistry on the recording.”
Plaine is quick to return the compliment. “He comes to our shows when we are playing around town – he’s really become a friend and a support. I trust him so deeply. It’s been such a positive experience having met him and becoming a part of his life.”