After six-year hiatus, Annabelle Chvostek has released her new album, “String of Pearls.”
Blending the Canadian singer-songwriter tradition and her Slovakian heritage with a long-standing connection to Uruguay, the musically-adventurous Chvostek’s new album was digitally-released worldwide on March 26, with the physical CD set for April 16.
According to entertainment publicist Cindy Byram, the album was co-produced in Montevideo by longtime collaborator Fernando Rosa, who gathered a variety of Uruguay’s world-class jazz, classical and tango musicians to create “a new-old pop sound flavored with the tough tenderness of 1930s tango, vaudeville cabaret and Hot Club jazz.”
Byram said Toronto producer David Travers-Smith oversaw the Canadian and Uruguayan tracking, which included helping hands by members of Toronto’s lively Jazz Manouche community.
“String of Pearls” will be available on all music services, Byram said.
She said cascading vibraphones, snappy brush drums, brisk guitar chops and Chvostek’s richly nuanced vocals grace the album’s opening “Je t’ai vue hier soir” (I Saw You Last Night), “setting the tone for un-melange sonique that swirls folk, cabaret, classical and Chvostek’s own Slavic musical roots with vintage swing-jazz.
“The title track’s Django-esque acoustic guitar, wailing clarinet and Chvostek’s multitracked Andrews Sisters-style choral backing make for ultra-bouncy instrumental textures that play lightly off the song’s somewhat weightier lyrical content,” Byram said.
“‘String of Pearls’ is about getting through difficult things, defiantly transforming them and coming out on top,” said Chvostek (chuh-VOSS-tek). “It’s a pep talk to a self that’s struggling through difficulty, a reminder that the struggle can make beauty, too.”
Byram said other songs reveal fascinating connections between the disparate musical genres Chvostek churns together in her search for a new sonic space, “with her super-flexible vocal cords navigating the fragrant musical ether so naturally you might be unsure what exactly it is you’re hearing –– though that shouldn’t matter.
“The easy-shuffling vibe of ‘Cannabin’ features tubas and banjos that reside comfortably in the American jazz and pop of the ‘20s and ‘30s, with the shadow of Bix Beiderbecke hovering nearby,” she said.
In sharp contrast are the dramatic vistas of the album’s string-laden first single, “Wall,” Byram said.
Chvostek credited her Uruguayan life partner Ximena Griscti’s love of Dadaism and punk rock with bringing out the best in what Chvostek calls her “scribbly box of ideas.”
Griscti’s collages are seen in the “String of Pearls” artwork, and the video for “Belleville Rendez-vous” is based around ideas that Griscti developed to visually support the themes of the album as they emerged.
Chvostek also credited producer Rosa with helping her bridge the subtle but substantial cultural minefields that international musical collaborations often have to negotiate.
“From the first time I went to Uruguay,” she said, “I could recognize the Eastern European sounds within the tango, like the way the violin moves and the way the bandoneon is so expressive, all these things.
“I come from a songwriting tradition that’s very, like, let’s celebrate things, and if we’re moving through difficulty, wrap it up with a tidy bow at the end, and it resolves,” Chvostek said. “Fernando helped deepen my understanding of tango, however, emphasizing that tango is gritty and dirty and full of pathos and unresolved anxiety. It’s about complex emotions, about people having room to complain about how hard life is, and expressing it.”
Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, Byram said Chvostek was immersed in Montreal’s eclectic arts scene in the 1990s and early 2000s, performing regularly at Le Boudoir, a queer, feminist 1920s-inspired cabaret series, and self-releasing four full-length albums between 1997 and 2003.
In 2004, Byram said Chvostek joined The Wailin’ Jennys and wrote four songs on the band’s Firecracker album, which won multiple awards including the North American Folk Alliance Award for “Best Contemporary Album” in 2007.
After departing from the Jennys, she released the album “Resilience” (2008), produced by GRAMMY and Academy Award nominee Roma Baran (Laurie Anderson) and Vivian Stoll; “Rise” (2012); and “Be the Media” (2015).
“Rise” was nominated for a JUNO Award in the Roots and Traditional Album of the Year category, and both “Rise” and “Resilience” were nominated for Contemporary Album of the Year at the Canadian Folk Music Awards.
Chvostek also co-wrote two songs with Bruce Cockburn for his JUNO-winning album, “A Small Source of Comfort” (2011).
In 2015, Byram said Chvostek was forced to “put the brakes on her musical adventures due to a series of health crises, including an ongoing struggle with severe hearing loss and tinnitus in her left ear, triggered by a feedback blast during a soundcheck in England in 2008.”
To aid her more accurate aural perception of the music she was recording, Chvostek’s producer, David Travers-Smith, remixed “String of Pearls” in mono (mono mixes and stereo mixes are available on Chvostek’s Bandcamp site), Byram said.
“It’s the joyful exploration of her very own and very personal musical world that keeps Annabelle Chvostek in search of the lost chord and ready for new discoveries –– come whatever obstacles that may,” she said.
“As she croons so coolly in ‘String of Pearls’ title tune, ‘I’ll grow a pearl, this grain of sand got under my skin/if I evolve, revolve and spin/I’ll grow a pearl,’” Byram added.