JENNIFER CASTLE with TEX MESSAGE and CARL DIDUR at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), tonight (Thursday, May 19). Doors 9 pm. $10. HS. See listing.
You don't get a sense from Jennifer Castle that she's particularly ambitious when it comes to making her way in the music industry, which might explain why, despite years of critical praise, she's only recently getting time in the spotlight.
The Toronto-based musician is happy enough to simply perform her songs for people, and seems to care about little beyond that. And though she sees her amazing new album, Castlemusic (Flemish Eye), as just a part of her larger body of work, something about it has captured more attention this time around.
Suggest to her that naming it after her former pseudonym and recording under her own name for the first time are signs of a new approach and you won't get any explicit confirmation. Ask about her intentions or decision-making process and she'll answer with something about following her feelings and intuition. Even the increasingly country feel of her ambient folk songs doesn't get any real explanation.
"Well, I think I've become a better singer, and maybe those country vocalists are just really good singers?" Castle suggests over beer at the Beaver. "It's actually surprising to me that those influences weren't more evident before."
At times, her quivering vibrato evokes Dolly Parton through a haze of hash smoke, if only Nashville had more of a taste for minimalism and sonic experimentation. You only begin to get a clearer picture of where Castle's coming from when she talks about her affection for the blues.
"I've always dug blues music, ever since I started playing guitar. I like that blues musicians will just play the same kinds of songs over and over again. They're not hung up [about the fact that they] ruminate on the same things all the time. It's, like, this is where you're at for your time on the earth, and it sounds like this. Over and over."
That single-minded focus on a form led her to develop a unique musical vocabulary that's finally clicking with a larger audience. She's not exactly endlessly rewriting the same song, but she has carved out a niche that won't let you confuse her with anyone else. Just don't expect her to define what that is or even what her songs are about.
"Sometimes other people say something about a song that is exactly what I was thinking, but I don't even know entirely what I'm getting at most of the time. They end up meaning something to me later."
So how does she know when she's got something to write about? Give yourself a prize if you guessed something about a vague intuition.
"I get this funny feeling when it's time to write a song. If I'm in a bad mood and I can't pay attention to a lot of stuff and need time to myself, that's how I know."