The way the critics are talking, success may come calling for Canadian singer Ferron. There's just one thing that worries her about that possibility--the prospect of leaving home, a remote island off the coast of British Columbia with one gas pump, a mail shack and "more deer than people."
"If I'm nervous about anything, it's that someone might say to me, 'You're going to have to move to the city,' " Ferron said in a telephone interview from Vancouver, where she was rehearsing for a West Coast tour that includes a concert tonight at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre; the opening act is a women's improvisational theater group called WIMS, featuring Betty Thomas of "Hill Street Blues."
Though still little known to the public beyond a faithful following in several cities, the 32-year-old performer has received critical acclaim beyond the dreams of most folk-oriented performers. Rolling Stone blessed her new "Shadows on a Dime" album with four stars. The New York Times likened her debut LP, "Testimony," to Van Morrison's "moody rock masterpiece, 'Astral Weeks.' " And Ferron rated on the year-end Top 10 lists of Boston Globe critics as many times as Bruce Springsteen and Prince.
She has been compared to Springsteen, possibly because she places work high on the list of human concerns. Although she adores Springsteen's music, Ferron said she doesn't think she has much in common with a musician whose songs "rock along." Her own phrases sometimes lurch, sometimes sail, but rarely do they rock easily.
There have been Dylan comparisons too, of which she said, "Poor old Dylan. It seems like any songwriter that has a complete thought is compared to him."
The truth is, Ferron didn't even hear Dylan until she was 23 and baby-sitting in a neighbor's home. There was no record player in the house while she was growing up; she listened to whatever Kitty Wells and Hank Williams songs she could tune in on the family radio.
Growing up in a French-Canadian family in a rural area outside Vancouver, Ferron knew poverty and physical abuse as a child. "What I saw going on at home was a man and a woman with seven children trying to make ends meet," she said.
She went to work for the first time at age 12. Her many jobs have included shoveling gravel, driving a taxi and packing five-pound bags of coffee in a factory (an experience that figures in the title cut from "Shadows on a Dime").
A quote from W. B. Yeats on the jacket of "Shadows" talks about the necessity of reliving past events "until all are related and understood." Poverty, of the purse and spirit, makes frequent appearances in Ferron's lyrics as she attempts to be released from her past.
She senses a return to hard times just around the corner, an attitude that gives her music an acute edge whether she's talking about a lover or livelihood.
Although she'll be touring with a band this time around, it's often just Ferron up on stage with a guitar. She makes little attempt to seduce an audience with her weathered vocals; her approach is more along the lines of "Listen, because this is something you should hear."
Because she is openly gay, Ferron is sometimes lumped with women's music performers who court a primarily female audience. Yet thematically, there is no comparison to the Holly Near school of songwriting.
"I'm not making songs to tap-dance to," Ferron said. "The songs people love the most are very hard to write. I can't lie. If I'm going to have to sing a song possibly 300 times in a year, it has to be a sturdy song."