TERRA Lightfoot had only been in Australia a matter of days in 2017 when she was cruising down a highway alongside Hunter Valley artists William and Julieanne Crighton.
The couple were entertaining their Canadian touring buddy with a story of how they'd once hit a koala on the stretch of road, before hopping out and rescuing the injured marsupial.
"It was a pretty intense story," Lighfoot says via Zoom from her home in Hamilton, an Ontario port city situated between Toronto and Niagara Falls.
"They saved the koala and I thought, wow that's what Australians do all the time."
They saved the koala and I thought, wow that's what Australians do all the time.Terra Lightfoot
Several years later Lightfoot had her own near-crash experience with an escaped horse and her foal while driving at night on a rural highway outside Nashville. The horses endured several near misses from other vehicles, and rather than just drive by, Lightfoot pulled over.
"All I did was chase the horses off the road," she says. "I didn't corral them.
"I betcha if I was William Crighton [she laughs] I would have somehow fashioned my belt into a bridle and taken them back to my house."
The incident happened at an important juncture in Lightfoot's career. In 2017 the Americana singer-guitarist released her breakthrough third album New Mistakes, which earned nominations in the 2018 Polaris Music Prize and JUNO Awards for best Adult Alternative Album.
The awards are the Canadian equivalent of the Australian Music Prize and ARIA Awards.
The success of New Mistakes launched Lightfoot on a gruelling two-year touring campaign around the world, which included two trips to Australia to play alongside Crighton.
At the end she was exhausted, both mentally and creatively. A severe case of writer's block had developed and was stymieing plans for album No.4.
"Those kind of things [JUNO and Polaris nominations] weigh on you to do the same thing again or better," she says. "You have to keep doing something better than what you did last time, so that's where that writer's block was coming from.
"Ultimately I was putting so much pressure on myself to deliver."
But following the incident with the horses, Lightfoot uncovered a rush of creativity which led to the writing of her fourth album Consider The Speed, released last Friday.
"I was reading that we spend almost half of our time thinking about the past or thinking about the future, and we rarely come into the present," she says.
"Seeing those horses on the road almost get hit by a car, I thought I'm in the present. That's kind of what knocked me out of that writer's block and five days later I got the song Two Wild Horses, which closes the record with beautiful gospel vocals from Sharisse Norman and Candice Rayborn-Marshall, and when they did that in the studio I just started crying.
"All of my vision for the record had been realised with them singing together."
Consider The Speed, much like its predecessor New Mistakes, showcases Lightfoot's stunning mezzo soprano vocals and driving southern-rock sound, best heard on the title track and Paper Thin Walls.
However, there's also a new-found soul and gospel element heard on the emotional Two Wild Horses and the opener Called Out Your Name.
Lightfoot explains well-known Australian music journalist Bernard Zuel can be partly credited with the minor shift in direction.
"I think he [Zuel] is awesome and I said, 'What should I do for my next record'?" she says. "He said, 'I think you should go to Memphis and make a soul record'."
Lightfoot followed Zuel's advice and booked into Royal Studios, where the legendary Al Green produced his finest work and soul great Ann Peebles laid down I Can't Stand The Rain.
"When I walked in there I thought, OK what the hell am I doing here?" she says. "The walls can make better music than I can."
COVID-19 has meant Lightfoot and her trademark 1972 Gibson SG "Veronica" have enjoyed a rare respite from the road in 2020. It's been a chance to enjoy waking up in the same bed and tend to her plants.
However, Lightfoot has remained active. She had plans to perform three 50-person shows last week in Hamilton, but a new outbreak of coronavirus and a subsequent lockdown in nearby Toronto convinced her to turn the launch shows into a livestream concert on Sunday.
"Even though it's not technically against the rules, I thought I don't wanna be that guy that spreads COVID through rock'n'roll," she says. "I just want to spread the healing power of rock'n'roll."
Lightfoot is considering the option of performing a series of 200-capacity shows in the COVID-free Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.
"I'm not gonna go and play 150 shows, I'm only gonna do one main livestream and then I have all this space to maybe to live sessions with the band or whatever I want," she says. "We won't be on tour, but there's new ways to promote albums."
Terra Lightfoot's Consider The Speed is out now.