The Rural Alberta Advantage make music that is intensely nostalgic, yet their sound is not reminiscent of anything specific. Their debut album, Hometowns, was born out of singer/songwriter Nils Edenloff’s feelings of homesickness after moving to Toronto from his native Edmonton. Yet despite many poignant Alberta-specific lyrics describing “dead roads” and “purple nights,” the album carries a sentimentality that translates to any town, in any county--any place left behind. The RAA’s dynamic acoustic sound is the happy, heartbreaking kind of sad that will either leave you in tears or drunk-dialing ex-girlfriends.
Opening track “Ballad of The RAA” is decidedly the album’s mission statement. “We invariably/left the prairies in my heart/since we never moved an inch,” Edenloff sings in an endearing plea of a voice. Entirely acoustic without sacrificing power, The RAA create a strained emotionality that is tragic and haunting. This sense of sonic distress enhances the restlessness and longing that Edenloff explores in his lyrics. His powerful folk guitar blends with his simple, honest verses and Paul Banwatt’s precise drumming to thoroughly capture “the ghosts of our town” that drift throughout the album.
“Edmonton” asks “What’ll I do if you never want to come back/sitting in a city that is always on the attack?” And while the concept of any Canadian city being “on the attack” is laughable, I love the un-whiny earnestness in Edenloff’s voice when he asks “What if I’m only satisfied when I’m at home?” In this song, and throughout Hometowns, there is an absent, lingering “you” that is most striking in the album’s single, “Don’t Haunt This Place.” Amy Cole, who plays a ridiculous amount of instruments on the album—everything from a tambourine to a glockenspiel--adds her vocal harmony to the refrain, “because we need this oh so bad, because I need you oh so bad,” making it even more (oh so) emotional. If you drink while listening to this album, you might want to throw your phone out the window. There’s nothing more embarrassing than a nostalgia-fueled drunk dial, and if there’s any album that will send your heart shattering back ten years, Hometowns is the one to do it. Pass the tissues, please.