Elisapie’s The Ballad Of A Runaway Girl is musically and narratively stunning


Rating: NNNN

Among a vast crowd of talented musicians from the North, Salluit-born, Montreal-based singer Elisapie has distinguished herself as one of the most prolific. In the early 90s, when she was 12, she was recruited to sing backing vocals in Sugluk, a rock band from her hometown in northern Quebec. She made an award-winning documentary for the National Film Board, and a Juno-winning record with her band Taima. 

The Ballad Of The Runaway Girl is in some ways a tribute to these pasts, and in others a progression away from the weight of it. The sum total is a rich, genre-bending celebration of self.

The record opens with Arnaq, an Inuktitut word meaning “woman,” with a simple, slinking two-note riff from guitarist and co-producer Joe Grass (Patrick Watson, Klaus), with Elisapie’s haunting vocal line gliding alongside it. The track builds slowly and purposefully, with Grass’s guitars becoming feverish and Jason Sharp’s bass saxophone fluttering into the foreground as group vocals rise up like a tidal wave.

The album contains three covers of Indigenous rock and folk songs of the 60s and 70s: Sugluk’s titular The Ballad Of The Runaway Girl, Willie Thrasher’s acoustic shuffle Wolves Don’t Live By The Rules and Willy Mitchell’s environmental rally cry Call Of The Moose. These were formative listening for Elisapie, who initially set out to record an album of covers but was inspired to build out her own story.

It unfurls on Una, which addresses her relationship with her birth mother, and Ton Vieux Nom, the record’s sole French-language track (co-written with Innu poet Natasha Kanapé-Fontaine), which is dedicated to Inuit men and contains a voice clip from an Inuk man describing his birth. Don’t Make Me Blue is a moody, strings-driven 7/8 slow dance that mixes English and Inuktitut and, like Elisapie, contains multitudes.

Ballad Of The Runaway Girl benefits from the loose-limbed confidence of the fantastic musicians Elisapie has assembled. Together they’ve created a powerful record, and a rare album where both the music and narrative are equally stunning.

Top track: Arnaq 

music@nowtoronto.com | @lukeottenhof



Stay In The Know with Now Toronto

Be the first to know about new and exclusive content