New music talk with Wendy Rose
Long-time folk/pop music fans, especially those on the west coast of Newfoundland, may be fortunate enough to remember Andrew James O’Brien and Catherine Allan from a previous band, Andrew James O’Brien and The Searchers.
As Fortunate Ones, Andrew and Catherine released their debut album, The Bliss, in 2015, followed by a Christmas-themed EP All Will Be Well in 2016, and Hold Fast in 2018. With more than a decade of musical collaboration and many years as a romantic couple, it’s unsurprising that this duo can write wonderfully deep and meaningful love songs. On 2022’s That Was You and Me, the adoration comes through the speakers and into your ears.
The album kicks off with “Day to Day,” the first single from the album released in June 2022. Soft acoustic guitar leads us into the picture Andrew paints with his lyrics about waking up and starting the day - one of those days where you seem to get lost in the monotony. “You ask me how the day has been, when the alarm clock gets me up again,” he sings, the chorus echoing sentiments of finding “meaning in the day to day.”
“Heavy Heart” is a light pop song, with fun percussion keeping your toes tapping and light keys creating a dreamy vibe. “I can hear it in your breath, I can feel it when we kiss, it’s a heaviness, but you can trust in this,” Andrew sings in between choruses.
“Clarity” is sung almost entirely by Catherine, with just a touch of backing vocals at points. This song reminds me of Norah Jones’ “Tragedy” - in part because of the emotion both singers push into that one word in their respective songs.
The ideals behind “Day to Day” bleed through in “It’s Worth It (For Leo)” - again about how just getting through some days is difficult, but even just one perfect little moment amongst the all the chaos can make life worth living. “You pass through the day in your own kind of way, and you hope at the end of your time you can say it was worth it,” Andrew sings in the opening verse. “It’ll be worth it,” he repeats throughout the song.
Soft, slow and poignant, “You’re Still Here” grabs you by the heartstrings and starts pulling hard, while simultaneously lifting your spirits. The song’s title repeats in the chorus - a reminder that “Every moment you had, both the good and the bad, are just a part of your story, my dear,” Catherine sings.
The next track, “85,” features light guitar, light plinky piano and swelling synths. The choruses feature echoing vocal harmonies, which fade beautifully from left to right in headphones.
In “A Thousand Tiny Ways,” the pair trade off singing lyrics on each verse, creating a beautiful back-and-forth banter that tell a deeper story when they reach the chorus and harmonize. “A heart’s a Milky Way in a heavy hand, and when both of ours collided I knew we would withstand, the thousand tiny ways to break a heart,” they sing together.
“Anchor” is up next, the longest track on the record at just over four-and-a-half minutes. While the album version is more instrumentally complex, the music video by Duncan DeYoung offers a soft acoustic performance of this love song. The video was filmed in rural Newfoundland in the house where Fortunate Ones wrote and recorded this album in the summer of 2020.
The album finishes with the title track, “That Was You and Me.” This beautiful song takes the listener through a year of emotions, changing with each passing season. One verse seems to directly reference Andrew and Catherine’s pandemic summer, alone together in English Harbour, Trinity Bay, writing and recording. “We spent that summer in a reverie, in an old clapboard house on a hill by the sea, the closest we’ll come to what people call free, that was you and me,” they sing, repeating “That’s like you and me” as the track fades out.
Whenever I finish writing my review of an album, I tend to poke around the internet to see if Anthony (Tony) Ploughman, music connoisseur and the longtime face of Fred’s Records, has written his own review about it. In this magical way that he has, Tony manages to perfectly sum up this album in one sentence, describing it as a “cohesive collection of poignant songs revolving around themes of isolation, introspection, re-evaluation of ‘life’s priorities’ and that which matters most simply at the end of the day.”
Despite writing this nearly 800-word review about Fortunate Ones’ That Was You and Me, that one sentence from Tony really says it all. I guess I really couldn’t have said it better myself.
Q&A with the Artists
Wendy Rose: The songs we hear on That Was You and Me were created during a pandemic summer, writing and recording songs in a saltbox house near the ocean. How did that creative process differ from the writing and recording process of your previous albums?
Catherine Allan: …For this album, we had more time to develop the songs and really live inside of them. We were initially supposed to record in May of 2020, but for obvious reasons that was pushed until the fall when we felt it safe to travel. That allowed us more time with our producer, Joshua Van Tassel, to do pre-production work and really hash out the songs before we got into the studio. We recorded demos ourselves at home and in English Harbour, Trinity Bay, and sent files back and forth to Josh, which was a first for us!
WR: That Was You and Me is certainly a labour of love, as are all of your wonderful works, but the creation of this record has not been without its challenges. Andrew, a recent health issue temporarily impacted your ability to guitar. How did you overcome that challenge - mentally, emotionally and physically?
Andrew James O’Brien: In 2019, I had a tumour removed from a finger on my left hand and the surgery left me unable to play guitar for several months. This period of time was one of significant change for us as a band. We were parting ways with our longtime manager and were suffering from some significant burnout from years of touring. I was exhausted and feeling a sense of professional aimlessness; so in some ways, the surgery was the universe’s way of getting me to slow down, take some time away and refocus my energy. I was feeling uninspired, creatively drained and my love of music as a job was as low as it had ever been, so I took a job working at The Inn by Mallard Cottage. Going to a day job, making coffee, greeting guests and housekeeping gave me something else to put my time and energy into, a new sense of purpose and a welcome break from my career. Eventually, I found that ideas for new songs were starting to percolate, something that hadn’t happened for a couple years at that point. I would spend the early morning shifts at Mallard quietly playing guitar, writing many of the songs that would become That Was You and Me, all the while making sure not to wake the guests around me. In hindsight, the injury and my subsequent time at Mallard gave me the space and time to fall back in love with songwriting after years of feeling disassociated and creatively empty.
WR: In the fall of 2022, Fortunate Ones embarked on a lengthy Canadian tour, starting at home in Newfoundland and ending in British Columbia. What kind of feedback have you been hearing from audiences across the country - new fans and longtime listeners - about That Was You and Me?
CA: It’s a bit tricky introducing folks to new songs! Fans have their own favourites from our catalogue, and it might take some time for them to get to know our new songs as well. That being said, the feedback has been so kind and uplifting. It does feel like this album is a creative and musical step forward, and is so special to us. It feels like it tells a complete story, and I think fans can feel that.
WR: Later this year, you’re taking your act on the road - well, more like on the water - in France with Alan Doyle. This sounds like such a unique opportunity. How did this interesting tour come about?
CA: The net that Alan casts is wide! He’s like Santa! We’ve been lucky to experience so much of his magic in bringing people together. We started working officially with Alan’s manager, Louis Thomas, in the fall of 2020, but our history with Alan and his team goes back to 2011. Alan has been so generous to us over the years, from taking us on tour with GBS in our early days, extensive touring through the US and Canada, co-writing, giving us invaluable career advice and being a great friend. We’ve been fortunate to be on his list of folks to call when cool opportunities present themselves, and the river cruise this fall is no exception. France is very special to me since living there and working at Beaumont-Hamel in 2010, I can’t wait to go back and chante some chansons en français!
WR: For us local land-dwellers, where can Newfoundland and Labrador audiences catch you in 2023?
AJO: Plans are in the works. You’ll have to keep your ears peeled. More info soon!