Belle Plaine Goes Alt-Country on New Record


Nick Murray

Belle Plaine has done something a little different on her latest record; Malice, Mercy, Grief & Wrath. I mean, it's still clearly the same woman with the same dynamic voice and the same song writing chops we've known since Notes From a Waitress, only this record seems a little alt-country-fried. She sounds remarkably less like the smokey jazz club chanteuse known for covering Tom Waits songs and remarkably more like someone with a thirst for the back road and sunrises (this is just judging from the few songs I've been privileged enough to listen to).

"I like writing all kinds of music, and digging into the indicators that define different genres" she said.

Belle learned to play Jazz in Edmonton, she said; the alt-country sound came with growing up in small town Saskatchewan. Fosston, to be precise. A village of 45 people east of Humboldt.

"I just tried to collage it all together" she said.

Terri Fidelak did the cover art for  Mercy, Malice Grief & Wrath.  It’s out on October 19th

Terri Fidelak did the cover art for Mercy, Malice Grief & Wrath. It’s out on October 19th

Malice... blends in perfectly with the exceptionally cool and now popular SaskCore music scene taking the province by storm. A genre exemplified by the cream of the crop of Saskatchewan songwriters like Colter Wall, The Deep Dark Woods and Blake Berglund (I suspect it's love). Artists who like their music both heartfelt and rugged. Musicians who wear their hearts on their sleeves but aren't afraid to roll those sleeves up and drink their whiskey without mix; and, thanks to Malice... Belle Plaine is now undoubtedly ensconced at the pinnacle of that scene. Don't be surprised when SaskMusic calls this record The Top Sask Album of 2018, an award given out last year to another SaskCore queen who just so happens to appear on this record: Megan Nash.

"Megan is one of my favourite people to talk shop with. We see things eye to eye" Belle, whose real name is not actually Belle; rather it's Melanie Hankewich, who now records out of Regina, admits.

"I just wanted to involve more musician friends this go around. When she came into the studio and did the part I was surprised by how well our voices blended. We’d never sung together previously, so it was thrilling to have it come out so well."

The song they worked on together was "Golden Ring", a personal track Belle wrote about receiving her parents' wedding rings in the mail after they had died. Her parents separated when she was young. Receiving the rings caused her to look at them in a new light; as the young lovers they once were.

Related Reading: Roots Music - Belle Plaine Shares “Golden Ring”

Belle also included Kacy Anderson, from Saskatoon's moderately SaskCore duo, Kacy & Clayton on the record and Colter Wall, as well.

Kacy appears on "Rock Bottom" and Colter on a song about getting to the bottom of an existential question as old as time: "Is It Cheating?"

This style isn't completely new to Belle, she released an EP with Blake Berglund in 2015 with two tracks on it: "Town to Town" and “Saskatchewan". And there were moments on 2016's The Unrequited Love where you could argue she flirted with it. But Malice… seems to have brought out a Belle Plaine nobody knew existed.

This is the Belle Plaine that was always there
— Belle Plaine, on Belle Plaine

Another standout song on the record is the one for which Belle just released a video for: "Squared Up". A jangly country ditty about being on tour; and I presume the loneliness/homesickness associated with that.

"Squared Up" was written about Zachary Lucky (definitely SaskCore), a songwriter from Saskatoon who is now living in Ontario.

"I wrote the song when Zach was finishing up the tracking for his album The Ballad of Losing You. We were sharing a bassist at the time, and I tagged along for a trip up to a studio" she said. "It meant I got to hear all the new songs well in advance of Zach’s release. I was struck by the vulnerability of the record, and how brave Zach was to wear it all on his sleeve. That night there was a beautiful sunset in our rearview on the drive to Regina, and by the time I was back in my home I felt moved to write something for him. I wanted it to be in solidarity, and to recognize the bravery it takes to be a touring musician doing it all on your own. At the time I was processing my grief after the passing of my mother, and hearing Zachary’s album was a gift. A reminder to keep pushing on and reaching people with truth in songs. Long after that, Zachary heard it and sent a message saying the song really touched him, and I realized I’d never told him about it. I was like, “No kidding, man! I wrote it for YOU."

Photo: Little Jack Films

Photo: Little Jack Films

The video for "Squared Up" is a "who's who" of Sask musicians (many of which are totally SaskCore). It was shot at this summer's Gateway Music Festival in Bengough, by Landon Johnson.

"He worked his tail off" Belle said. "He had four hours of footage to whittle down! I’d say there are easily over 20 local musicians in the video."

Watch it for yourself.

Now that Malice, Mercy, Grief & Wrath is completed and the release date is set Belle is excited to see how it "lives in the big old world".

As to what she has in store next, she said "As my Kentucky pal Laid Back Country Picker says, I’m just trying to play some good country music and treat everybody right."

Malice, Mercy, Grief & Wrath was recorded with Jason Plumb at Studio One on Regina.

It will be released on October 19th and can be found on Bandcamp. If you order it there it comes straight to your door. Otherwise look for it on iTunes and Spotify.