With all the studio magic, lush sounds and Autotuned perfection available today, almost anybody can be a recording artist. One thing that can't be manufactured, however, is great songs and when you combine that with a voice capable of presenting them in their best possible light, you've got something special.
Surprisingly someone who fits the previous statement perfectly has been sitting under my very nose for years. Tragically I've been unaware of her presence until recently but am making up for this mistake with haste.
Roxanne Delage is a singer-songwriter from Cornwall, Ontario Canada and her latest CD, The Way I Am contains a strong set of songs that individually evoke a painter's pallet of moods and collectively fuel a great hour's worth of entertainment.
Roxanne is one of those artists who refuses to be painted into a corner and have her musical direction mapped out for her. There are tiny bits of country and occasionally a slight jazz-oriented flavor but mostly her music is '70s-flavoured adult contemporary. Think of a less issues-oriented Indigo Girls as sort of a reference point.
The lady can obviously sing and she uses it here but not in the usual "look-at-me" way. Refreshingly, a lot of the vocal lines are crafted to include interesting little runs or odd note bends instead of simply throwing down a "hear me power this one note until I turn red" sonic bomb that is so commonplace in pop music.
With artists like this, I can get really bored after listening past three or four songs where they all sound like they were poured out of the same musical milkshake recipe. None of these ten tunes cross paths, however, or at least don't share the same roadmap.
Sounding remotely like a slightly higher-pitched Neko Case, Roxanne kicks off the record with the excellent title track. The see-saw note structure had me hooked from the first few seconds. The song is powered by a stirring guitar which supports confidently but never distracts from the vocals and is matched by a haunting keyboard that sounds like one of those atmospheric Hans Zimmer "Titanic" moments.
"Until Now" is simply gorgeous. Roxanne's voice recalls Jane Siberry greatly in this song, especially with the unexpected peaks and valleys in the vocal lines. I love her vibrato in all of the songs but especially this one, careful not to stay one second beyond its welcome. This has to be my favorite of the bunch.
I'm not really a country fan but if "Where's That Girl" is considered country, then I have to rethink things a bit cuz I'm buying into this one. Her engaging voice really helps sell it and is augmented by lead guitarist Rod Robillard's tasty noodling.
Picture a beach on a sunny summer day with lots of seagulls in the sky and you get the type of setting for "I Would Fly". That Jane Siberry reflection rears up again with some of the odd (in a great way) note choices. Soothing and picturesque, this one.
"Cold Wind" with an-almost Irish bent (due directly to the flutes/recorders) is a winner, but possibly might have benefited from a key change down a note or two since Roxanne's voice works more effectively in the lower side of things to these ears.
My other favorite song on the record is "Message in the Sand". Once again, Robillard's notable lead lines really add much to the strength of the song, recalling The Guess Who's "Undun" and some of Craig Chaquico's (Jefferson Starship – think "Miracles" era) stuff. If this song had come out in the '70s, it would have been massive. To steal a line from Covergirl, "Easy, breezy, beautiful." Indeed.
Another of those country songs that I usually shy away from comes next in the form of "Lyin', Cheatin', Hurtin', Schemin' Games" but once again, I'm a convert under Roxanne's control. The rascal that broke her heart is given the boot and under a confident cowgirl strut, she gives him the "bye" speech with Robillard's stinging solo riding shotgun.
"All I Need" is like being along for the ride with a bird, swooping, diving and being propelled by the wind as Roxanne's voice takes you places. "When I Fall" is a pleasant song but the only one of the bunch that failed to move me in any significant way.
Closing out the record is "Gypsy Melody" (based on a poem that her mom wrote), a compelling piece that works perfectly in the end slot, leaving things on a high note but slightly different than the other material.
I like this record a lot because of two main reasons. First of all, the songs are really strong and feature really solid playing from her band (guitarist Rod Robillard, bassist Maryellen Seale, Marc Carrière on flutes & recorders and percussionist Jim Sharp). The second and equally important reason in my eyes (or ears rather), is the excellent vocal selection, both in melody lines and individual note choices, that really enhance the songs.
The Way I Am is an excellent introduction to Roxanne Delage and I hope it's only the beginning.
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Roxanne Delage - The Way I Am