Basia Bulat revisits old songs in her new strings album 'The Garden'

The Garden: a retrospective from a room in Montreal with the windows open, the wind moving, the leaves changing, and a spring-coloured secret on the tip of Basia Bulat’s tongue.

Montreal’s Basia Bulat today shares her new album The Garden. The album is made during the pandemic and is not a greatest hits album but a re-configuration; a chance to record anew some songs that Bulat didn’t fully understand when she originally composed them, five or ten or fifteen years ago. As she first sang in 2006 - and again last fall, in that second-storey apartment: We gave away our hearts / before we knew what they were. 

The Garden gathers sixteen string arrangements by three different arrangers (Owen Pallett, Paul Frith, and Zou Zou Robidoux), revisiting material from all five of Bulat’s studio albums. There’s Pallett’s interpretation of 2010’s Heart of my Own, calling back to the Béla Bartók compositions that marked Bulat’s high-school career as an upright bassist. There’s Frith’s Infamous, which turns 2016’s prickly kiss-off into something open-facing and generous. And there’s Robidoux’s reimagining of Are You In Love? -released just last year- which here becomes a whirling ballroom dance, full of discovery.

While Basia Bulat has been known to play live with small chamber ensembles and full orchestras -including the Ottawa National Arts Centre Orchestra and Symphony Nova Scotia- The Garden marks Bulat’s first recording to capture this spellbinding configuration. Across the 16 songs, produced by herself and Mark Lawson, she gives a new life to beloved originals alongside a handpicked group of string players (violinists John Corban and Tomo Newton, violist Jen Thiessen, harpist Sarah Page, along with Robidoux on cello), as well as bandmates Andrew Woods and Ben Whiteley on guitar and bass, respectively.

The Garden fits within a storied history of artists revisiting their songs over time and for Bulat, the album was a chance to record anew select songs whose meanings have shifted from when she originally composed them. "I sing the songs differently now," Bulat says. "It's the gift of time." While creating The Garden, she had just found out she was expecting her first child, which she revealed to her collaborators in the midst of recording, down a wire from the vocal booth. “Hold it up to the light and let it grow,” Bulat sang once – and again that fall, as her body changed shape. “Tell me you’re always my only.” A song can change shape too - turning new leaves, growing new blooms, in unexpected seasons. You can play a record once; you can play it again. The Garden won’t wear out. It’s alive. 

Listen to The Garden here.

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