Wed, Oct 9, 2013.
Saint John's Jessica Rhaye doesn't rush things in her career. She's been recording for a decade now, but takes good breaks between discs, to craft her songs. And to have a couple of kids, too. So there's been lots of work done since her well-received album from 2010, Good Things. That saw her team up with some excellent people to co-write and perform several songs, and she's done that here as well. What Rhaye does is work up some songs, find some other writers she admires, get together to polish them, and when she has enough, start the recording process. Then those co-writers perform on the tunes, as well as other talented folks, all put together with producer Ed Woodsworth, now on his third album with the singer.
Not only does this system bring strong results, it's also seen her steadily progress as an artist. The talent's always been there, as a writer and singer, but she climbs another level each time out. She's never sounded more confident with her material, her singing fitting the songs with ease, and even on a couple of cover versions, she owns the performance. That's certainly the case with fellow Saint John writer Brent Mason's tune, Ice Flow, which was made for her heart-felt delivery. It's even harder to cover a classic and make it sound like it belongs to you, yet she's done a fine update of Four Strong Winds, with a modern arrangement and a classic vocal. Rhaye has reached the point where she can do justice to any song, a singer with a capitol S.
The songwriting too has moved up another notch. This time, she's written with several well-known folks, plus worked solo for a couple of more tracks. Ron Sexsmith returns, after writing with Rhaye on Good Things. This time the pair came up with the bouncy-but-mysterious You Know Me Better, which includes a classic chorus, the way Sexsmith likes them. Ron joins for harmonies, and it's one of several songs that features the Saint John String Quartet sweetening things. The lead track, It Is All Right, is the poppiest on the album, no surprise because it was created with Royal Wood, an unabashed pop writer and fan of the old school. That's a number full of glowing melodies and harmony, and excellent vocals, with Wood joining in most of the way through. The fun factor increases when Steve Poltz drops by. The Halifax-born, California-bred writer teamed up for a folk-country number, On My Mind For Awhile, a light-hearted love song, with lots of warmth and comfort, just a high-quality toe-tapper. The fourth co-writing guest is Canada's quietest star, cellist Kevin Fox, who works with everyone from Stephen Page to Kathleen Edwards to Chantal Kreviazuk, and oh, Justin Bieber and Celine Dion, that kind of stuff. The number he contributes to, Sleepwalk, is a gentle gem, all accordions and dreams at the end of the day.
And there are more talented guests; Gordie Sampson dropped in lots of sounds, including that accordion, plus guitar and mandolin, recorded from his home in Nashville, and East Coast singers Dennis Ellsworth and Stephen MacDougall of Slowcoaster add harmonies. Rhaye's work was all recorded in her house in Saint John, with its 100-year old ambience, and special praise has to go to producer Woodsworth and engineer Jamie Foulds, for taking all these parts from various sources and making it so seamless. The album has a cohesive sound that not many can boast.
Jessica Rhaye is getting ready for a series of shows to launch the album, and the timing is great, because it happens at the same time as Music New Brunswick comes to Saint John. She'll be performing on Thursday, Oct. 17 at Centre Communitaire Samuel-de-Champlain, at the Symphony night, along with Symphony New Brunswick and Thom Swift. Then she's playing the actual awards show on Sunday Oct. 20 at the Imperial Theatre. But for a full launch concert, check out Friday, October 25th, this time in Saint John at the Sanctuary Theatre.
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Bob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).