"She knew his tricks. She was the holder of his secrets. It has always fascinated me." Danielle Caruana, aka sultry roots songstress Mama Kin, is talking about her mother, Iris, who worked as an assistant to grandfather Michael Pace, a magician.
This intriguing slice of family history led to the title of the Fremantle-based musician's second album, The Magician's Daughter, released last week.
Caruana has always been spellbound by the intimacy of the unique relationship. "The importance of discretion and regardless of whether the tricks were real or not, people left feeling that magic was possible," she says from her manager's house in Sydney, "which is so much what music is in my life - that magic and alchemy is possible."
Mama Kin has some new tricks on The Magician's Daughter, the follow-up to 2010's warmly welcomed debut, Beat and Holler.
The songs are imbued with a Latin soul vibe, subtle rhythms and Caruana's voice has never sounded more soulful. But the lyrics are where the real alchemy takes place.
"Beat and Holler is an intensely personal album, every song happened to me and every song was written from first person," she explains. "I did a songwriting course between the two albums that made me feel like I'd been living on one floor of a four-storey house."
The songs range from dark tales of abusive relationships (One Too Many), to sensual tales that come straight from the loins (Give Me a Reason).
While the writing course gave her the tools, the two years of performing Beat and Holler gave her the confidence to inhabit her musician skin after years of being best known as the wife of John Butler and mother to their two children.
Butler appears on three tracks on The Magician's Daughter after being noticeably absent from Mama Kin's debut. "I think I needed to make Beat and Holler without John," she admits.
The couple has played the odd gig together as the Brave and the Bird, developing their "musical language" to the point where he was her only choice for the new songs. "He interprets those parts in a way that only someone who knows me really well could interpret."
Their lifestyle, which involves plenty of touring as well as camping, also influenced the album. While Beat and Holler was mostly written on piano, this time Caruana wrote on a ukulele she took on the road.
"It's been a massive turning point in my songwriting because I now have an instrument with me all the time," she says.
Writing on ukulele also meant that the songs had to stand up in their rawest form, before she and producer Jan Skubiszewski (the Cat Empire, Owl Eyes) started recording in Butler's Fremantle studio, The Compound.
The only song not recorded in Freo was lead single Was It Worth It, which was done in Melbourne.
The Mama Kin band, which features her brothers, Michael and Nicholas (aka Nicky Bomba), were due to take the new songs out on the road last October, when Michael was in a motorcycle accident. Rather than cancel the tour, Caruana went out with just a drummer.
"I stripped them back to that rawest form that I took into the studio," she says. "It was such a great process to reconnect with the songs on that level and remember the reason they made it on to the album was because they stood up on their own."
Tomorrow, Mama Kin kicks off three months of shows with performances at the Nannup Festival. The national tour includes the West Coast Blues and Roots festival, where Caruana will share a stage with her childhood hero, Bonnie Raitt.
After appearing at the FolkWorld Fairbridge Festival in April, Caruana will finish the tour on her home turf with a gig at the Fly by Night Club.
"I just love playing the Fly," she says.
"It's such a rare thing because so much of my touring happens on the east coast or up north. I like to ride my bike to the sound check."For touring details visit mamakin.com.
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