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MUSIC · AUG 27 2009

Change isn’t something that prairie folk are known to be overly accepting of — which makes the sweeping changes that The Heartstrings, a band steeped in prairie roots and tradition, made leading up to the release of their new album, In a Land Far Away That is Fair, all the more interesting. Indeed, The Heartstrings, formed a couple of years ago by Melissa Nygren of the foot-stompin’ female trio The Cracker Cats, changed not only their line-up, but the way they approach making music.

“One of our members moved away and we now play with a drummer,” says Nygren. “Also, I'm now sort of sharing the lead with [fellow Cracker Cat] Eliza Doyle. She has a lot of great songs; four of the songs on our new album are hers.”

Along with adding Doyle as a main songwriter, Nygren also chose to transform the process of her own writing. On their self-titled debut album, most of the lyrics fit well with the moniker of the band, being songs of love, loss, and devotion. On In a Land, however, Nygren has for the most part eschewed writing about relationships, instead choosing to explore more unique — yet still close-to-home — themes.

“The album has [both] a flying theme and a prairie theme,” she says. “We do a cover of Red River Dave McEnery’s [1939 song] ‘Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight.’ We decided to call the album ‘In a Land Far Away That is Fair’ because it’s one of the lines in ‘Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight.’ I always think of Saskatchewan as being the land far away that is fair, and [a place] that would’ve provided Amelia with a happy landing.”

Along with flight, concern for the environment is another recurring theme on the record — and in fact, the two are combined in places. For example, Nygren says that “Used to Fly” was inspired by a comment a friend once made, that one day our grandchildren would be surprised to hear that we used to fly in airplanes. As such, the song suggests that an end to flight will be brought about by the looming oil crisis.

“The image that [comment] created really stuck with me,” says Nygren, “so I used that imagery [in] “Used to Fly.” When I was really young, it was quite an event to be taking a flight somewhere, so my mother insisted we get dressed up for the occasion. One of the lines in the song is, ‘What will make the world go ‘round, when you’re gone... gasoline?’

“Eliza's song “Finland Woods” also has a strong environmental message,” says Nygren. “One of the lines is ‘No corn will grow, no birds will sing.’ These messages are scattered throughout the songs on the album.”

Lastly, along with shifting the focus of her lyrical themes, Nygren has taken a new approach to writing music, experimenting with a loop pedal to take simple chord structures and layer them into multiple tracks.

All of the above leads to an obvious question: is there anything that hasn’t changed about The Heartstrings?

Thankfully, one thing that’s remained entirely the same is just how convincing and enjoyable a Heartstrings album is. All the musicians are highly skilled, Nygren’s voice remains a beautiful siren song that has the power to make you stop what you’re doing and stare at your speakers, and The Heartstrings are clearly in their element while creating their trademark rootsy sound.

Another constant is that The Heartstrings remain an excellent and energetic live band — which you can see for yourself at their CD release party on August 28th at Amigos (with special guests, B.C.’s The Gruff). Nygren promises it will be an upbeat night of good old fashioned music.

“Eliza and I do a lot of high kicks,” she laughs. “Luke [Goetz] takes off his shoes and Joey [Lorer] wears a shirt you can see your reflection in!”
- by Craig Silliphant (Planet S Magazine)


Since it’s release in 2007, the Heartstrings self-titled debut has gained much deserved popularity. This collection of upbeat country tunes and dramatic eerie ballads is a colourful display of Melissa Nygren’s original creations. “These heart-warming, nostalgic, and organic gems will take you forward and back in time.”

Their second album, In A Land Far Away That Is Fair, 2009, is a great landscape of rolling harmonies, and powerful lyrics combined with intertwined melodies. There are several messages within the songs. Some about life on the prairies and others about the environmental and other issues our world is now facing. Both of these albums are essential to any roots lover's collection.



5 piece alt-country-roots group, Heartstrings consist of some of Saskatoon's greatest bands, including members of The Cracker Cats, The Deep Dark Woods, and Old Joe and The Truth Hurts. Featuring guitar, upright bass, banjo, pedal steel, percussion, and vocals with beautiful female and male harmonies. Collectively, they have played hundreds of shows and festivals across Canada and Europe.

The Heartstrings are fronted by Melissa Nygren and Eliza Doyle. The combination of Melissa's classic sweet vocal's, trade-mark guitar style and Eliza's impressive banjo picking and stage presence will leave you wanting more. These intelligent and experienced prairie songstresses have never hesitated to spread their music to audiences in a journey that’s taken them from the back porch to big stages in more than a decade of writing, performing and collaborating.

An organic brand of alt-country-roots music is what the Heartstrings deliver. Up-beat country gems, bluegrassy songs, and dramatic eerie ballads. Whether you are listening to the albums or catching their live shows, be prepared to have your heart warmed and your imagination enlightened.