In 2001 Christine Fellows quit her day job. For the past 17 years, she’s been a musician, artist, writer, performer, collaborator, mentor and teacher. On November 16, she releases her seventh album, Roses on the Vine and it would not be easy to say that it’s her most ambitious.
Her last record, Burning Daylight (2014) was about the gold rush and was released accompanied with a book. Femmes de chez nous (2011) featured songs in both English and French and featured songs from Reliquary/Reliquaire, a multidisciplinary performance work presented by a collective of artists at Le Musée de Saint-Boniface Museum in 2009.
But, Roses in the Vine may be the Winnipeg artist’s most concise record to date.
“My goals were focused on writing songs as structurally sound as I could. How could I make these songs unbreakable? I worked on these songs for years and keep reefing away at them until they felt right,” she said.
“I didn’t do that as much when I was younger, I was too excited to move on to the next thing.”
The 13 songs for Roses on the Vine were all written on a variety of ukuleles, her newest instrument of choice. Produced by Fellows and her partner John K. Samson, the album features a plethora of studio trickery — think spinning coins, toy synthesizers and water gongs, hospital intercoms — and her longtime collaborators behind her – Cam Loppky, Jason Tait, Keith McLeod, Greg smith and Leanne Zacharias along with Christine Bougie, Keri Latimer and Shotgun Jimmie.
The album consists of songs written and inspired by the lives and work of other women. The songs themselves bend from folk inspired music, to straight up rock music, highlighted by her direct voice and carefully crafted lyrics. Me and Carmen follows the friendship of two young girls and the track Dutch Blitz was written about her friend, writer Miriam Toews and her family.
“They’re a family of incredibly strong women who have been through a lot. They are like the Mohammed Ali’s of grace,” said Fellows. “That song was all about me imagining them all together on a wagon train ride through the prairies. Funny enough, she worte a new book called Women Talking and it ends with this group of women riding into the distance on a wagon train – and this wasn’t intentional. It was actually pretty wild.”
Unleashed, the standout pop-rock song and initial single, is a celebration of joyful resistance.
“I wrote that song in 2014 and it seems to have a new meaning at this particular moment,” she explained. “When I wrote it, it wasn’t about the uprising of women who are going to take over the world, it was about humans in general, but now it sounds like an angry lady singing this song.”
Recently celebrating her 50th birthday, Fellows stated that at this moment, she is embracing her opportunity to expand and do different things rather than focus “on a narrow path”.
“Instead of the walls closing in, I feel like I don’t have any rules. I’ve never been a career person, always moving from one project to the next, that’s why you’ve never heard of me.”