10/01/2013 07:19 am ET Updated Nov 30, 2013

Could Basia Bulat Be This Generation's Joni Mitchell?

I started listening to the title song of "Tall Tall Shadow," Basia Bulat's new CD, and I heard a kind of bruised purity. The walking rhythm was clever. The production was crisp. But there are a gazillion female singer-songwriters with straight blonde hair and sweet voices, and the odds that any of them will break out of the pack are small.

I was at the 1:40 mark of "Tall Tall Shadow," about to eject the CD, when the song shifted gears. Bruised purity became passion --- the song became instantly personal. The voice I'd thought perhaps too pretty turned urgent: "You're running away/but the shadow is your own." And then I had to listen to all ten of the songs on "Tall Tall Shadow."

Listen to "Tall Tall Shadow." Maybe she'll hit you the same way.

I followed up. She's Canadian. (She's met Leonard Cohen.) This is her third CD. (She has played the auto-harp in public.) Largely unknown here, she has a cult in Canada. (All those fans have health care.) Nice. Too nice.

What makes "Tall Tall Shadow" compelling?

"Two months before I was due to begin recording, I suffered a deep loss. I kind of started over."

"Kind of?" Translation: totally.

I found a video of Basia Bulat singing at a Toronto art gallery. It's a buzzy crowd, delighted with itself. Given a choice between chatting and a singer, they'll take both --- and talk over the singer.

But look what happens. She plays guitar for a minute, and then she starts singing a song called "It Can't Be You," and then the room quiets. There are some trills available to her that elude most singers, and two minutes in, she rolls them out. And from there to the end of the song, she owns that audience.

We spoke on the phone. Looking over the transcript, one exchange jumps out at me.

Jesse: If you had a nickel for everyone who said "You're a female singer from Canada. Joni Mitchell is from Canada, I guess you went to school on her," how rich would you be?

Basia: Very. (Pause. Laugh.) And they'd be right!

That's when the penny dropped. New generation Joni Mitchell? Works for me.

[Cross-posted from ]

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