Band: Abigail Lapell
Album: Stolen Time
Label/Vertrieb: Outside Music / Bertus Musikvertrieb GmbH
Just listen. Toronto songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Abigail Lapell offers this prompt at the end of synesthetic piano tune “I See Music”, but the invitation could apply to her entire fourth album, Stolen Time. Produced by Howard Bilerman at Hotel2Tango in Montreal, Stolen Time is elemental and powerfully evocative, channeling natural imagery and the revolving seasons to take a longer look over decades and generations, ultimately delivering up the present moment the way only the best music can.
Stolen Time strikes a balance between Lapell’s acoustic debut, Great Survivor, and her two rockier Chris Stringer-produced records Hide Nor Hair and Getaway, while bringing a live off the floor 70s folk rock vibe and more structural experimentation to the table on songs that feel expansive in their scope -- unhurried, psychedelic and other-worldly in the vein of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. It also marks the collaborative meeting of two important music communities for Lapell, who spent formative years in Montreal’s Mile End before returning to her hometown: From Toronto, Dan Fortin (bass), Dani Nash (drums, vocals), Christine Bougie (lap steel, guitar) and Rachael Cardiello (viola); and from Montreal Katie Moore (vocals), Chris Velan (vocals), Pietro Amato (French horn) and Ellwood Epps (trumpet); Nashville pedal steel player Fats Kaplin and Vancouver cellist Peggy Lee also play on the album.
By turns poetic and painterly, Stolen Time got its title from the music term tempo rubato, meaning “robbed time,” which Lapell picked up while teaching herself piano (“I See Music” and “Pines” are both piano tracks); it refers to the push and pull or expressive shaping in musical phrasing, but the twangy guitar song “Stolen Time” remembers with frustrated ambivalence frittering away summers in a state between bliss and blitz, the darkness hand in hand with escapism. “Old Flames,” meanwhile, with Lapell’s melodic fingerstyle guitar mimicking flickering embers, is a bit of an answer song to Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire.”
A theme of recovery runs through Stolen Time, whether it’s “Scarlet Fever,” swirling and woozy with Rachael Cardiello’s viola and Peggy Lee’s cello and inspired by an elderly relative’s tales of being quarantined as a child; dreams of Lapell’s partner in recovery from surgery (“Sewage”), or the act of choosing recovery through deciding to be sober. When the pandemic hit Lapell was in residency at the Banff Centre, and that wait-and-see inspired “All Dressed Up,” a honeyed sweet duet with Montreal’s Chris Velan that echoes how many of us have felt these past two years while waiting to recover our lives.
Lapell’s band underscores and meets the power of her vocals on songs like “Ships,” a wild sax solo seemingly enticing her higher and louder to meet the crashing waves. But many of Stolen Time’s standout tracks are solo acoustic guitar songs, backed by little more than Lapell’s harmonica, pump organ or accordion, including “Waterfall,” with its captivating cascade of descending notes; love song closer “I Can’t Believe,” which sounds like a 1950s standard; and “Land Of Plenty,” which you would be forgiven for mistaking for a lost Woody Guthrie or Pete Seeger tune.
“Land Of Plenty” was inspired by Lapell’s family history of escaping the Holocaust by immigrating from Eastern Europe to North America, as well as more recent immigration stories. “When the Trump administration first brought in the Muslim ban, I remember watching something about it and just crying; it made me think of my whole family,” Lapell says. “They didn’t have an easy life here. You get here and you have no money, you have nothing to call your own, but you’re still rich. It’s not about romanticizing life in Canada, or ignoring the ills of our society. We were just raised with this idea, that as shitty as it is, it’s better than any other place or time in history. This is the land of plenty.”
Over the past decade and three spellbinding albums, Lapell has garnered two Canadian Folk Music Awards (English Songwriter of the Year in 2020 and Contemporary Album of the Year in 2017), hit number one on Canadian folk radio and accrued a staggering 13 million+ Spotify streams while touring widely across Canada, the U.S. and Europe.