Its topics run from the joy that California-born Shari Ulrich still finds in her adopted country (“Canada”) to the sorrows that accompany losing a loved one to dementia (“The Sweater”), but mostly the Bowen Island–based songwriter’s new record, Back to Shore, is about acceptance. Acceptance of the past, mostly, as can be heard in “A Bit of Forgiveness”, which owns up to old mistakes while offering a sense of time as a healer.
That’s an interpretation that the 67-year-old Ulrich readily agrees with.
“Well, I definitely am somebody who is plagued by regret—regret of hurting others, or of being careless or thoughtless,” she says in a telephone conversation from Eugene, Oregon, where she’s visiting family. “And I’m realizing that that theme not only keeps popping up in songs as a subject, but also as a phrase here or there, as it runs through my life. I do think that forgiveness and self-forgiveness are really important elements in perhaps not writing about those things anymore.”
She laughs, sounding happy and relaxed—an assessment, she adds, that would be entirely correct.
“I do find that this is my favourite time of life,” she points out. “And in some ways it’s a return to my youth, to my 18-year-old self, who was completely free to explore and hop on my bike and ride from point A to point B, having no idea what point B was. There’s just this sense of liberation, having reached this age. After having had to look after creatures and humans for a long time, I don’t have to worry about anyone. Of course, I always worry about other people’s welfare, but you know what I mean: I’m not looking after them. I’m not feeding and watering them, whether they’re a dog or a human. So it’s a very liberating time.”
Family connections remain strong for Ulrich: her multi-instrumentalist daughter, Julia Graff, plays in her band and coproduced Back to Shore. “I have my own years and years of experience that I bring to it, and they have a much more current approach, and more technical knowledge,” Ulrich says of Graff and her partner, audio engineer James Perrella. “They’re also both incredibly fast, which works well with my temperament, ’cause I’m not a particularly patient person. So recording is much more efficient than it used to be, especially with them.”
Multigenerational collaboration on-stage as well as in the studio is also an important discovery for the experienced Ulrich, whose credits include work with Pied Pumkin, the Hometown Band, UHF, and the High Bar Gang. She’s particularly happy to have multi-instrumentalist Scott Smith playing electric guitar, pedal steel, and Dobro in her band.
“What he contributes is so special,” she says. “It becomes a very integral part of the tune, just his very tasty little intros and themes that he ends up creating just spontaneously. And his Dobro-playing is the thing that I find heartbreakingly beautiful.”
The result, Ulrich adds, is that she’s delighted to be back in the studio, and now on the road. “I’ve never loved it more,” she says. “You’d think I’d get tired of music, but it’s just the opposite. I’m so excited about what it does for people, and how much fun it is to make, and how much I love the people I play with and work with. It’s all very positive—and it’s good to have some positive in this wacky world.”
Shari Ulrich plays the Centennial Theatre on Tuesday (June 18).