The tidal nature of life on the island of North Haven — receding in the winter, coming back in the spring — formed the basis of Courtney Naliboff’s debut solo album. The close-knit community, the whir of boat motors and the crash of waves against the rocks all inform the 12 songs that make up “Almanac,” recorded in December and January in the home studio Naliboff shares with her partner, Bill Trevaskis. It is available online at courtneynaliboff.com.
“I consider ‘Almanac’ a really rural album,” said Naliboff, who by day is the music and art teacher at the North Haven Community School. “I actually sometimes wonder how the songs will translate to a city audience. All of the other bands I’ve been in have been pretty electronic, so this is my first acoustic venture. The songs pretty specifically reflect island life.”
The album is full of unique textures and compositional flair. “Almanac” recalls the orchestral folk of Sufjan Stevens, or a more stripped-down St. Vincent, especially in songs such as “Diurne,” which features a string quartet comprising midcoast musicians, and “Bones,” which features a handmade percussion setup.
Other musicians flesh out the rest of the album, from drummer Jake Greenlaw of North Haven indie-bluegrass band the Toughcats, to Trevaskis playing all the guitar parts. Though the world she writes about is very small, Naliboff’s musical outlook is more diverse than most.
“We made a point of using as many different instruments that we have around as we could, so I wound up playing trumpet, theremin, various keyboards, including a weird little chord organ, a Wurlitzer Music Learning Module, and a Cordovox, piano, glockenspiel, bass and mandolin,” said Naliboff. “We also made some incredible percussion setups, using a file cabinet, some circular saw blades, wooden frogs and metal boxes. Bill and I had a lot of fun recording with that.”
Naliboff also learned ukulele before recording the album. Never one for the guitar, she picked up the small, four-stringed instrument after a friend dropped it off at her house.
“[She] asked us to learn it so we could teach it to her son. We never wound up doing that but I was hooked from the moment I picked it up,” said Naliboff. “For some reason, I have never really gotten the hang of the six-stringed wonder despite playing bass and piano, and the ukulele is an extremely portable accompanying instrument. I like its timbre as well, and it’s really trendy right now for some reason, although I maintain I was unaware when I started playing it.”
Naliboff, who is originally from western Maine, is no stranger to wide-ranging musical interests, however. Before moving to North Haven, she played in a number of bands in the Boston area, including Valhalla Kittens, Joe Lies, Galo Mato and the Nonfamous.
She moved back to Maine in 2005, but living on the tiny island has not slowed her down a bit. In 2006, she adapted the album “Milk Man” by the indie rock band Deerhoof to a chamber orchestra, and choreographed a children’s ballet, which premiered in late 2006 with a cast of North Haven school kids. She plays in an electronic band with Trevaskis, and now, she has a solo album out.
“Being on North Haven has forced a very [do-it-yourself] approach, which I prefer. Since we moved, I’ve been able to do a lot more writing, where in Boston I was mostly playing other people’s music. This is my first solo project,” she said. “We’re extremely lucky to have a recording studio in the house, and I’m very lucky to have Bill around, and so many other talented people. There’s also the whole ‘winter on an island’ phenomenon, where there’s literally nowhere to go some evenings, and that really makes you be self-entertaining.”
Is there a genre she hasn’t tackled? Who knows where Naliboff’s restless creative spirit will take her next? Classical? Pop? The world — whether it’s the self-contained island or the world in general — is her oyster.