Sarah Jane Scouten
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Sarah Jane Scouten

Montréal, Quebec, Canada | SELF

Montréal, Quebec, Canada | SELF
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"Montreal Gazette: Sarah Jane Scouten planted her roots quickly - June 2012."

MONTREAL - The road to Sarah Jane Scouten’s independently released debut disc, Magpie Waltz, started in Vancouver, with Hank Williams and pancakes. She was 6.

“I’m a big one for tradition,” Scouten, 25, said during a recent interview in a downtown food court. “To me, it was every Sunday, which it probably wasn’t: My father made a huge pancake breakfast spread and we’d always have Hank Williams playing. I’ve never tried to learn a Hank Williams tune, but I’m pretty sure I know the words to all of them.”

Jeffrey Scouten, a lawyer with a practice in Vancouver, is also a guitar and banjo player with a passion for bluegrass and folk. Accordingly, daughter Sarah absorbed the songs of Bill Monroe, Willie P. Bennett and Stan Rogers, as well as a few guitar chords here and there, as she grew up. Her mother, Angela, exposed her to Scottish and Celtic music, providing the other source of her musical roots, she said.

After occasional public appearances singing with her father, Scouten attended a 2005 bluegrass workshop in Sorrento, B.C., and learned more about other stringed instruments and ensemble playing.

While the songs of Bob Dylan and Neil Young were, and are, constant sources of inspiration, bluegrass resonated with Scouten for a long time because of its familiarity, she said. Over time, however, she has concluded it’s no longer her focus.

“Bluegrass songs themselves, if you can jam them in a relaxed setting, are really fun. But the way it’s played nowadays, it’s fast and you have to shred,” she said, referring to the lightning-speed playing normally associated with guitar gods. “I don’t find that conducive to the average player, who plays for fun. That’s why I like old-time music a lot more.” Bluegrass has become more about “speed, chops and the slickness of the recording, and it’s delved into the jazz realm,” she said, citing virtuosos like Béla Fleck.

Scouten started performing her own songs in public only in 2009. A year later, she followed her younger sister Anna, who sometimes sings with her, from Bowen Island to Montreal. “I heard the city was great – and I was in love with a French guy,” she said. Musicians like Lake of Stew’s Rick Rigby, a fellow mandolin enthusiast, and Dara Weiss helped her ease into the local roots music scene, she said.

Scouten completed Magpie Waltz, recorded at Concordia University’s Loyola Chapel, in November. Her knack for leisurely, melodic narratives is evident on the album, which bears similarities to Nanci Griffith at her unplugged best. It deftly alternates between inward-looking, personal numbers like Palm of My Hand and storytelling songs like Ballad of the Southern Midwife. The disc’s promise belies the fact that its creator has been singing original material in public for a mere three years.

Scouten wouldn’t necessarily call Magpie Waltz folk, but she also understands how some can be sheepish when they describe themselves as singer-songwriters. “The term ‘singer-songwriter’ doesn’t describe a sound; it often means emotional indulgence,” she said with a chuckle. “And as emotionally indulgent as my songs might be, I don’t want my music to be specifically about that.”

Sarah Jane Scouten opens for Peter Yarrow Thursday at 8 p.m. at the Georges Vanier Cultural Centre, 2450 Workman St., as part of the fifth annual Folk Festival on the Canal.
- Montreal Gazette


"CiTR Discorder: Sarah Jane Scouten (Magpie Waltz) Review by Angela Yen"

With a hint of Southern drawl and an old-time country feel, you’d never guess that this country-folk songstress actually hails from Montreal. Her roots in Bowen Island, B.C., indeed inspired some of her folk background. In classic country tradition, Sarah Jean Scouten‘s latest album has thoughtful lyrics that will make you long for sweet romance, but not before cursing the pain that it caused you first.

With influences from greats like Emmylou Harris and Gillian Welch, Scouten holds her own. Her vocals can be strong and fiery like on “Poverty Wind,” and then make a complete turnaround and surprise you with a vulnerable and quivering voice like on “Bad Weather.” Even on the lighter “Until the Wheels Come Off” followed by the bass thumping, “Twenty Dollar Bills,” Scouten’s clever and blunt lyrics maintain her distinct personality. But, it is most clearly on “Ballad of the Southern Midwife,” which tells the tale of a rebellious woman who escapes her traditional and sheltered upbringing, that Scouten’s song writing comes alive and reveals an old, wise soul.

Along with Scouten’s rich and provocative vocals/lyrics, the album’s string arrangements drive the album. Her band, which includes mandolin, violin, guitar and bass, provide a stripped down feel making each guitar buzz, shaky vocal or screeching violin note audible. It’s raw and honest and impressively executed by what could only be a group of seasoned musicians.

We’ve heard it from artists like the Secret Sisters and the Omaha Sound Gang, both dabbling in classic, old-timey Americana roots. Like these peers, Scouten isn’t just a nostalgic feeling. Her point of view is personal and relevant, and reminds the listener why the genre so beautifully exposes one’s deepest emotions, out there for our yearning ears to grab on to. - Discorder Magazine


"Montreal Gazette: Concert Review, Feb 18, 2012"

By Bernard Pernusse

A wonderful Saturday night at O Patro Vys made it clear once again that Montreal’s roots music scene is, perhaps, more vibrant than ever.The trigger for my optimism was a Jimmyriggers show at the intimate bar, with Sarah Jane Scouten opening for the band.Scouten, promoting her disc Magpie Waltz, delivered an outstanding support set, backed by a driving acoustic band featuring Luke Fraser on mandolin and Mathieu Lacombe on bass, with Sarah Frank’s fiddle and vocal harmonies adding some stratospheric beauty.

Somewhat in the style of Nanci Griffith’s best music, Scouten’s songs are filled with sturdy melodies, and the performance – featuring everything from bluegrass picking to bar-band shuffle and burning-ballad intensity – was memorable.... - Montreal Gazette


Discography

Magpie Waltz (Independent, 2011)

Photos

Bio

Sarah Jane Scouten is on a mission to make remarkable Canadian folk and country music. On Bowen Island BC, she began playing folk music at age 12, happy to forgo a Friday night house party for an all-night kitchen jam. Hank Williams and Stan Rogers were her greatest inspirations, both a staple at Sunday morning pancake breakfast and afterward, singing bluegrass and gospel music with her father. Her talent for performing came naturally, and as chance would have it, so emerged her talent for songwriting. Sarah Jane pairs sturdy, infectious melodies with lyrics that are candid, poignant and flirtatious.

Now living in Montreal, Sarah Jane recorded and co-produced her first album, Magpie Waltz (Independent) in 2011, at Concordia University’s Loyola Chapel. With a discerning taste for fine musicians, she sought out the fresh talents of Sarah Frank on fiddle, Luke Fraser on mandolin and Mathieu Lacombe on the upright bass to join her brilliant string band. Trilling mandolin, lavish bass and down-right bad-ass fiddle playing bring out the best in Scouten’s authentic sound. The all-string, all-acoustic record, whose “narratives and arrangements make for an impressive genre LP” (Montreal Mirror), has flavours of Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris, Graham Parsons and a wealth of bluegrass and old-time music. It would seem Sarah Jane Scouten and her folk music mission are well on their way.