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Big Little Lions: Happt Accident
(Fallen Tree Records, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 7/13/2022)
Probably one of the professions most affected by the pandemic was performing musicians. Most were kept off the road, away from audiences, for the better part of two years. Many artists tried to cope by doing virtual performances. Some just retreated, and a few drew inspiration from the quarantine and what it imposed. Fortunately the technology of virtual interconnections happened to mature and really come into its own during the pandemic. Virtual video meetings have become an almost daily activity in many fields. That has also enabled musicians to collaborate and create recordings, even if they were half a world away. This was something that was previously starting to infiltrate into music, but the pandemic made it almost a necessity. It got to the point that were several virtual jazz big-band recordings with the 14 or 15 musicians each recording their parts sometimes in different countries.
This week we have an album that was more or less a product of the pandemic. The group is Big Little Lions, and their new album is called Happy Accident.
Big Little Lions are Paul Otten of Ohio, and Helen Austin, who lives in British Columbia, on the Canadian West Coast. Their publicity says that it was through a “happy accident” they began collaborating on songwriting, despite their distance apart, described as a 39-hour car trip. But they had been touring together for several years, pre-pandemic, and their collaborations won them a JUNO Award, the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy. Big Little Lions have released six albums to date, with a distinctive and appealing folk-pop sensibility, with tight vocal harmonies. In their stage act, they become a couple of one-person bands, juggling numerous instruments to create a kind of full band sound.
When the pandemic hit, since they were used to being apart geographically when they were not touring, they began collaborating on songwriting, as they have been for the better part of a decade, but now they recorded together virtually in what turns out to be a seamless production. Not being on the road, they decided to create a song and record it each month and post it on the web. There were 13 in all, and those songs are collected, plus a new one on the album Happy Accident. They result is a very appealing recording with literate lyrics, some about weighty topics, hummable tunes and nice vocal harmonies. The style can run from folk to alternative rock. But it’s all nicely done and with a surprising number of instrument sounds for just the two people with no added players.
The album opens with one of those instantly endearing songs, From the Storm. They describe the lyrics as about trying to protect those who have been treated badly, using winter as an analogy. <<>>
Also with a positive lyrical message is the song Extraordinary an encouragement for one to reach for one’s potential. <<>>
With Paul Otten taking the lead vocal is Beat You Up about people who beat themselves up over the small things. <<>>
The album’s title “Happy Accident” is the central theme of the song I Know I Know, which is the new song on the album they duo had not previously issued on their monthly web postings. Again, the message is positive. <<>>
We Were Young is a contemplation of nostalgia for one’s youth. It takes the form of a pretty waltz. <<>>
The weather is the central theme of the song Never Mind the Weather celebrating being in a nice warm place in the middle of winter. <<>>
One of the more interesting tracks lyrically is Missed the Start about sort of falling in love gradually without a great moment of realization that it happened
The album ends with Goodbye for Now a composition that Otten and Austin describe as a break-up song but not necessarily from love. They said that it could have been about the separation brought on by the pandemic. <<>>
Happy Accident, the new album by Big Little Lions, the duo of Canadian Helen Austin and Ohioan Paul Otten is a very appealing recording of tuneful, often lyrically uplifting music created by the duo as they were separated by a thousand miles during the pandemic, and working together remotely to create the songs and the arrangements, being self-contained as a duo. The technology makes their duo performances seamless, but the music is generally quite timeless, even those songs that were inspired by the pandemic’s isolation.
Our grade for sound quality is about an “A-minus” with a nice mix and generally clean vocals. But the sonic clarity could have been a little better.
Big Little Lion’s members separation was the inspiration for this album. As we broadcast this review, the duo are back together performing live, and perhaps a new musical chapter in their long-running but geographically separated collaboration. Happy Accident the album is well-named. And it’s a most worthwhile musical endeavor.
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