Belle Plaine throws back to old-time music

Jazz vocals and old-country style music is the calling card of Belle Plaine who is performing at Voodoo's in Penticton on Friday.

Belle Plaine

Belle Plaine

From her quirky, yet smooth, jazz vocals over a upright bass you would never know Melanie Hankewich hails from a small farm in Saskatchewan.

It sounds more like she was transported to the future from a smoky jazz club in its heyday. Hankewich (who performs under the stage name Belle Plaine) moved to Edmonton to study jazz at Grant MacEwan College when she fell in love with the genre.

“That was really the beginning of me starting to listen to jazz more intently. The show we do is kind of a crossover with 1940s jazz-sounding music and songs that were by Emmylou Harris and Hank Williams. You get this weird combination of jazz and old-style country,” said Hankewich, who is performing in Penticton on Friday.

Pairing her jazzy twang and smart, witty lyrics like, “Well, I avoid working weekends and the cook’s wandering hands. But one or the other sneaks up on me, gets me from behind,” Belle Plaine released Notes From A Waitress. The theme originated while she was overseas and each song reads as a travelogue from different locales.

Performing mostly at intimate venues allows the band (an upright bass and piano) to be a little more casual with the audience and relay how the songs came to be.

“I have a hostess syndrome where I want everyone to be happy and having a good time. I like to give the audience a bit more than a quick hello, a nod and go in and play the songs,” she said.

The title track Notes From A Waitress was written while she was in Australia and tells her story of working at a “dodgy” restaurant, living in a house with 10 boozy Australians and playing gigs with a pack of mongrel musicians. Prior to that she worked in a recording studio in Calgary but lost touch with her voice and moved to Victoria.  It was during her itch to travel she discovered she wanted to be a singer, again.

“That whole period of moving from Calgary to Victoria to Australia very much formed the writing for Notes From A Waitress. My experiences are fairly well distilled in the lyrics of the album. I guess I won’t really know where I am from the next album until I start writing and singing it for people,” said Hankewich. “It makes it sound like I am really out of touch with myself, but when you look at a body of work there are certain themes and threads that can run through your writing. I found it can take you by surprise what those dominant themes are.”

After touring extensively, Hankewich is looking forward to taking a rest, well, if you can call it that. She plans on preparing grants so she can concentrate on writing a new album.

“I read somewhere once that being a musician is a hard way to make an easy living. No one sees all the time we spend at home agonizing on applications, tours and all the rest,” she said.

Belle Plaine will be performing at Voodoo’s on Friday, March 15. Doors open at 7 p.m., Belle Plaine takes the stage at 8 p.m. and there is a cover charge of $10.