Wed, Nov 13, 2013.
I forget sometimes how much of someone's personality, and their inner values and beliefs, go into making their music. That's not true about every songwriter of course, some just write what they figure you might like. And I suppose some have no inner values to speak of. I even think that after you do it for a few years, you might lose that passion to connect and share those core traits. Maybe that's why so many songwriters do much of their best work in their early days. Anyway, it's one of my pet theories. But that thing about a songwriter and putting their values into the song, I think that always works great. A song doesn't have to be autobiographical, but it still says something about the writer.
A couple of years ago, I went on the road for a few days with Nova Scotia's Kim Wempe, as the MC on a short songwriters tour. You hang around a bit in those circumstances, observe them each night, and you do quickly pick up on their personality, at least the obvious parts. We got along just fine is the good news, and while this isn't a review of her as a person, what I'm going to say about her new album, Coalition, is directly related to it, because I recognize that person in these songs. So when I say the songs are soulful, it's also because that's the way I see her.
First off, Wempe has a deep, rich voice, and she puts it all into her vocals. Like a gospel singer of old, you can feel her passion in the singing, connecting strongly with the words. That's because she means it, and wants you to know it. Whether its the brief, a cappella opening Intro, or the rockin', Staples Singers-like number Go Back, Wempe is thinking of you hearing what's she's singing, and wanting you to know the words do mean something. There's a lot of hard work and thought going into the craft.
There's a big, up tempo sound on much of the disc, made in collaboration with producer Chris Kirby, who once again shows he's top dog on the East Coast when it comes to the roots-soul sound. LIke he did on his own recent album, and the ECMA-winning latest disc for Charlie A'Court, it's a funky effort, full of keyboards and uplifting tunes. Best of all, he knows how to let the singer shine, and that's just what Wempe does, going with big beat, rising up over the instruments. There are great harmonies too, often supplied by her road partner, singer Carmel Mikol. This is a strong East Coast team that's building around these young performers. And Wempe has so much strength and maturity in her voice, she seems much older than 20-something.
The album title comes from the song The River, which starts "I have a coalition of people on my side, and they got my back..", which is a fine statement on the album's production for sure, but it's also about finding strength in numbers, when somebody's taking shots at you. Go to your friends, they'll stick up for you. The chorus on that one is probably the most gospel-fired on the album, borrowing the old Baptist theme of going to the river for strength. Here Wempe finds compassion and love there, and it's a joyous things when she feels that spirit.
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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).