Toronto-based folksinger, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Abigail Lapell has earned praise in Rolling Stone, The Guardian, and No Depression, among other notable publications. She’s won three Canadian Folk Music Awards, was a New Folk Winner at the Kerrville Folk Festival in 2020, has hit No. 1 on Canadian folk radio, and has reached more than 40 million streams on Spotify.

Abigail Lapell, Flowers In My Hair, video

Select the image to play the YouTube video of the Abigail Lapell song “Flowers in my Hair”

Anniversary, Lapell’s new album, released on May 10, 2024, features 11 songs that question the romantic ideal of growing old together. But the songs – written solely by Lapell – also examine the memories of departed loved ones and past relationships, while exploring the ever-changing perspectives that come with growing older. Most of the songs were written during a music residency at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. She recorded the album with co-producer Tony Dekker, frontperson of Great Lake Swimmers, at St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake, with additional recording at The Wow Sound in St. Catharines.

“Flowers in my Hair” is the only song that wasn’t written, at least in part, at the residency. While searching for love songs, Lapell found an a cappella recording she’d made around a campfire, of an old tune she’d written. Dekker immediately recognized its potential. “Tony said we should stand around in a circle, and basically re-create this campfire vibe, but with nice mics, in this nice reverberant space we were recording in,” says Lapell. With Dekker’s encouragement, Lapell stepped outside her comfort zone, allowing her deep, bold voice to be accompanied only by vocal harmonies, foot stomps, and hand claps. The achingly beautiful results can be heard and seen on the album and in the video.

On “Rattlesnake,” a nursery rhyme-like song about long-distance love, Lapell sings lyrics she describes as “witchy incantations” involving magic and superstitions. The lyrical and musical climax of the tune occurs when she raises her voice in a near-holler to caution her beloved, “If you find a rattlesnake / Put it in your fiddle / Play it at the funeral wake / To keep away the devil.” Lapell says, “It’s thought this tradition might have started because if you keep your violin in the barn, then all these spiders and vermin would make their home inside it. So having this scent of a rattlesnake – you know it’s long dead – would keep those critters away. And then there’s tons of stuff about playing it at a funeral to keep away bad spirits.”

Despite Lapell’s close attention to lyrics, for her the meaning of the words is secondary in importance to the melody. This seems fitting for a songwriter whose tunes and chord structures sound like they’ve been around forever. She tends to connect first with sounds, honing in emotionally, phonetically, and stylistically. There’s a finality to completing lyrics – making a commitment to a song’s meaning – that makes her somewhat uncomfortable.

Yet with the Anniversary LP, Lapell embraces the idea of committing to a word’s meaning, and the act of committing to another person over a lifetime. “On the nerdier side, the word ‘anniversary’ literally means returning, or turning yearly,” she says. “So, it’s this idea of just revolving seasons, and revolving landmarks and milestones, that recur over time. I love that idea of marking the passage of time.”

Abigail Lapell, Count On Me, video

Select the image to play the YouTube video of the Abigail Lapell song “Count on Me”

“Anniversary Song” was inspired by Lapell’s relationship with her partner, and the symbolism and imagery behind traditional anniversary gifts. “I was reading about the periodic table of elements and realized there’s this overlap,” she says. “There’s silver and gold, obviously, and there’s some overlap between those anniversary gifts and these kinds of symbols of physical matter. I thought, that’s such a cool contrast, the clash between these symbolic and physical modes of togetherness and people binding together. I was interested in thinking about the wordplay of that.”

In “Count on Me,” recorded with Great Lake Swimmers, Lapell sings earnestly about love while also acknowledging our numbered days on earth. She originally had a different intention. “I almost wanted the song to be about memory loss, or dementia,” she says. “I had this idea that it could be this very bittersweet thing, where you don’t quite remember the person that you were, but you still have this bond.” But the song didn’t come. Instead, Lapell began writing one about her sister’s wedding at the Toronto Botanical Garden, and finished it by the time of the couple’s first wedding anniversary. Lapell kept circling back to images of the ceremony. The influence is apparent in the opening lines, when she sings, “Garden, in my memory / Oh my darling, you are all I can see / I love you / You can always count on me.”

That Lapell had an original plan for this song, only for it to be upended, is emblematic of the album’s theme – and the realities of daily life. We never know when we’ll find love, when it will end, or how we as individuals, or as part of a couple, will change. But stepping outside of our comfort zones, and making a commitment, can sometimes bring surprisingly sweet results – as is the case with Anniversary.