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Townsend takes off 

Cape Breton darling Carmen Townsend kicks off 2011 with a debut album and a tour supporting Heart.

As a young girl, living in a house in the woods outside of Sydney, Carmen Townsend used to amuse herself by dancing around the living room to Heart. She and her sister fought over who got to be Ann and who got to be Nancy, and tried to copy their '80s bouffants.

Years later, as Townsend sits in Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern and talks about finding out she's opening for Heart on its Canadian tour, her voice starts to leap and squeak with a familiar sort of little-kid giddiness. "I knew we were kind of being considered. I knew they had the record," she says. Townsend's debut album Waitin' and Seein' is released on Monday at the Seahorse. "I knew their road manager liked us."

While on tour in Australia over Christmas, Townsend learned that Ann and Nancy had a copy of her album and would be making the choice personally. She tried to stay nonchalant. "I was like, 'Oh yeah, that's going to happen,'" she laughs. After touching down on Canadian soil, another call came from Townsend's manager Darren Gallop. They'd picked her.

"I was screaming and jumping around my hotel room like a crazy person," she says. "I was saying the f-word a lot. Even talking about it now, it still feels like a kick in the arse."

After listening to Townsend's long-gestating debut album for the first time, it's easy to see why the sisters Wilson thought her music would fit nicely with their own. The Zeppelin-esque "River Rat"---a longtime live staple for Townsend and her band, the Shakey Deals---soars with "Barracuda" bombast, while "Nothing Lasts Forever" is a gentle acoustic number in the vein of "Dreamboat Annie." It's clear that the album, produced by Violent Femmes singer/guitarist Gordon Gano and Gallop, was assembled with care and clarity. Townsend was committed to achieving the live sound she wanted. "I've been doing music for 17 years--- it's been my boyfriend, my child, my home," she says. "I wanted it to sound right."

The Heart tour also marks a notable departure for Townsend. For the first time in a long time, she'll be playing without her band. Back in November, the band won Music Nova Scotia's Battle of the Bands competition and was set to head to London, England, to showcase in February. Now that Townsend is otherwise occupied, bandmates Shane O'Handley and Thomas Allen will be joining the Tom Fun Orchestra in the UK.

"It's a bummer that I can't do a rock 'n' roll show, but to be honest, I would do the highland fling if [Heart] wanted me to," Townsend says. "The band is really happy that I get this opportunity. It's going to open a lot of doors for us."

After the release shows in Halifax and Sydney, Townsend plans to spend her last few free days hanging out with her sister and her nephew. There are also additional considerations for the tour: "What the fuck am I gonna wear?" she says, maintaining her days of copying "Alone"-era Heart are over.

"Someone asked me if I would dress like '80s Heart with the fringe and the leather. And the hair. I was like, 'Um, no.'"

Jokes aside, there's still a hint of fangirl dazzle in her voice. She admits "a good happy cry" is on the horizon. She plans to play the best she can, and watch, and learn.

"I can't wait to absorb all their knowledge," she says. "They're such powerful women. I can't wait to be their little sister for awhile."

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