It’s been seven years since Sarah Frank and Luke Fraser – collectively known as The Bombadils – last released an album with 2016’s New Shoes. It shouldn’t be surprising, though, when you consider the intervening years included a move to Nova Scotia, parenthood, and a pandemic, all conspiring to keep them out of the recording studio.
With this album, we wanted to explore songwriting more, and we set out to make the development of our songwriting a part of our daily routine. – Sarah Frank
That all changes for the bluegrass, Celtic, and contemporary folk music duo with the release of their fourth album, Dear Friend, a collection of eleven songs of original music.
“This album had us in a different head space than past albums where we’ve had a bit more traditional music, some cover songs and all that,” says Frank. “With this album, we wanted to explore songwriting more, and we set out to make the development of our songwriting a part of our daily routine.”
Evolving out of a pub band after the two first met at a party in Montreal as McGill University music students, their initial focus on traditional Irish songs with a smattering of bluegrass has grown to a more significant emphasis on writing original material.
“So when we set out to write this album, we decided to do all original songs with no instrumentals as we’ve done in the past, but where the instrumental element would be in the arrangement of the songs,” says Fraser.
“The instrumental side is still important and fun for us, but it’s like our ears were opening up more to lyric writing,” adds Frank. “I remember starting to be more moved by songwriting. Ten years ago, it was all about being a violin player and not even paying attention to words, but we started to fall in love with songwriting as music listeners.”
After writing over 30 songs for the project, the duo whittled it down to eleven, which made the final recording.
“It’s not like we had a concept at the beginning, but the songs that stuck were the ones that got us thinking about what we value with themes of relationships, friendships, and family,” continues Frank.
“We were touring like crazy, but then we had a kid, and we got thinking about the future a bit more,” adds Fraser. “And when the pandemic hit, and you’re on lockdown, you start to think about the people you would like to see and care about.”
That idea expanded as the album also features accompaniment and co-writing with several Atlantic Canadian artists, including jazz bassist Patrick Reid, harpist Ellen Gibling, and songwriters Terra Spencer and Dave Gunning. Also joining them on the recording are guest appearances from Nashville’s Ethan Jodziewicz on bass, Kaitlyn Raitz on cello, and fiddler Ben Plotnick.
“One song that stands out for me is called Records and Rent written with Sarah McInnis, a songwriter from the Valley,” says Frank. “We brainstormed from scratch together and ended up with a silly joking song. It stood out because neither of us wrote songs that way, and I thought that was neat because that’s not the headspace I’m usually in while writing.”
Frank also points to Tell Me I’m Not Dreaming as a favourite to perform.
“That’s one that Luke sings on, and the balance of the instruments works really well,” she says. “There’s this kind of dialogue between the guitar and the harp, which are in a similar range, and sometimes you can’t tell which is which.”
For Fraser, it is Dangling Like Keys, which features another first for the duo.
“This was the first album that we used electric guitar, and Dangling Like Keys is always fun to play because it involves the electric guitar and is just a different mood altogether from the rest of the songs on the album,” he says.
Besides an album of original material, Frank also believes fans may be surprised by the slightly more melancholic places they go on this recording.
“It’s not like it is a super dark album, but people keep telling me that it made them cry, although I think overall it’s still pretty upbeat,” she says.
“We’ve been at it and talking about the album for so long, they might be just surprised it is done,” Fraser laughs.
Along with their upcoming release shows in Halifax on January 21 and Lower Sackville on January 22, the duo is also working on a few children’s songs in collaboration with a local theatre company. “It’s going to be a radio drama for kids,” says Frank.
While they will perform in a showcase at this year’s East Coast Music Awards in Halifax, Fraser says they have yet to book up the year as they usually do. “We’re going to let things come as they may and hopefully get lots of chances to perform,” he says.