Beatrice Deer is a singer-songwriter from Nunavik, the icy region of Quebec north of the 55th parallel and home to Quebec’s Inuit people. My All to You is her fifth record since she left her tiny hometown of Quaqtaq for the big city of Montreal in 2007 to get serious about making music as well as for other personal reasons.
This record quickly grew on me. Part of it is Deer’s skillful and joyful singing of the lyrics, most of which are in Inuktitut with some English and a smattering of French. Part of it is the melodies on most of these songs, which makes them hummable and catchy even with lyrics in a language that’s very exotic to these ears. And a lot of it is the inclusion of Inuit throat-singing that she does herself on some songs and with an assist from Pauyungie Nutaraaluk on three of the tracks.
What’s Inuit throat singing? It’s traditionally practiced only by women, who sing it in pairs, facing each other, holding arms and swaying. Each sings a different part. Here’s a demonstration by Deer and Nutaraaluk.
The songs are mostly set in an engaging indie-folk-rock style that, with her use of Inuktitut lyrics both traditional and her own, plus the throat singing, are the basis of a genre she pioneered that she calls “Inuindie.” Several of her songs, including the title track and the closer “You’re With Me,” both of them in English, have inspirational messages on spiritual themes. Those personal reasons I mentioned for which Deer moved to Montreal included pursuing education for herself and her children, and getting therapy for herself. The stellar playing, production and arrangements on these songs keep the proceedings from getting too somber or ethereal or, for lack of a better term, too “woo-woo.” Major credit to Christopher McCarron and Jordey Tucker on guitars, Pietro Amato on keyboards and especially Mark Wheaton on drums, which astutely combine indie-rock style with some deep tribal toms and bass drum. It’s no coincidence that the producer on this session was Wheaton himself, so kudos to him and engineer David Smith for getting those drum sounds so right-on.
The mood, both sonically and lyrically, is set by the opener “1997,” which has a lovely melody on which Deer’s sense of gratitude shines through regardless of language. On this slow folk march in which she thanks a friend for sticking with her through bad times and good, Deer’s clear, unadorned soprano vocals are matched and contrasted by the clean indie guitar sounds and the deeply thumping bass drum.
The real highlights are the tracks that feature the duet throat singing, including “Sapannga Sujunukua,” which is mostly a demonstration of traditional two-person throat singing accompanied by deep tom-tom drumming; Deer sings a short three-line folkloric verse at the end. The second track “Takugiursugit” is totally great, a very indie-folk song of unrequited love with lots of throat singing with deep baritone guitar twang. I think my favorite is “Immutaa,” a traditional song with a real ear-worm of a melody set to a galloping rhythm with layers of guitars, thudding drums and Deer’s solo throat singing behind the verses.
The lilting pastoral folk song “Isumavunga” is almost Beatlesque, though sung in Inuktitut and French. The song “Mali,” a plaintive love song with a pop feel to it, isn’t one of my favorites, except for the totally dope synthesizer, which has a kind of a raspy, wobbly sound that’s reminiscent of experimental analog synth work in the ’70s. In fact I can find something I really like on every one of the 10 songs on My All to You. Beatrice Deer is singing about things that are important to her, using words, music and rhythms that combine traditional and modern aspects of her blended culture. This is top-notch folk music.