CD Review – Grainne “Looking for Sunshine”
I have never under-estimated records or CDs received from artists or managers with no affiliation with a record company. Some people complain that projects such as this are filled with lots of effort, little musical quality and shallow production values.
But, Canada’s Grainne is already an award-winning artist. You would think a major record company would have picked up her option by now. This collection just needs a major label push because all the hard work and investment has already been done. Toronto’s Speak Music is responsible for having the gift or radar system that zeroes in on artists of considerable quality and value. Or, maybe there’s just a very fertile roots music scene in Toronto, Canada or — something must be in the water?
Grainne — is a young lady who has managed to create — with some help from some reliable, dependable musicians — a great sounding CD. This effort has all the earmarks of a major record company production with sparkling melodies and strong songs that are well-arranged and creatively played.
The album cover art even dares to suggest an artist with a well-balanced sense of humor – but inside the package: it’s emotive energy that translates into a grounded approach – an artist that is not silly. Grainne is that rare artist that manages to be diversified enough with her message that a listener can go through all ten cuts never sensing repetition or finding the journey laborious – it’s all well worth arriving at that beautifully sung title cut.
So, let’s get formalities out of the way: her name is pronounced — Grawn-ya. Her website details her impressive awards and reviews. It just angers me when I see the amount of talent that America never gets to hear because of the glut of commercialized music that cranks out the same formula every day. Nothing challenging. Everything so sugar coated that after listening for a short while you wonder why you feel like you need to go to a dentist.
Grainne is in an elite female singer-songwriter class. She’s in the classic mold of a Lucinda Williams, Julie Miller, Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and sounds hauntingly close – at times, not always — to the best moments of Aimee Mann. But, other writers have made that comparison already – I am just supporting the claim. Yet, I must add that despite similar sounding moments – for the benefit of people who need a starting point — Grainne is her own woman in this collection of songs.
Canadian veteran Moe Berg (The Pursuit of Happiness) has done a fine job providing smooth sounding production. Vocals are never over powered by the playing, the acoustics are sharp and clean. As each of the ten tracks play they present fresh introductions into a steady attractive line of story-songs.
“I don’t want to eat your dirt no more, and I don’t want to hear your engines roar” – what an effective line. Sung with her own unconscious voice answering back and followed with a full blown New Orleans jazz/Mardi-Gras band in “Big Yellow Machines.”
However, this CD really opens with “Not Enough Love,” — a crisp country flavored melody heavy on pedal steel and Grainne’s honey-flavored voice. She hits some sustained high notes effortlessly and the musicians glide in through that familiar style of Jerry Garcia, Lowell George and Hot Tuna. Easily compatible with some of country-rock’s best from the last 30 years or more. It’s just that kind of comfort level. Music that could played on any Georgia or Arkansas porch with a multitude of homegrown musicians.
“Under the Blanket,” shows a more plodding style – country music with little grains of the blues in the under current and again, Grainne holds some good notes with the drums anchored in a relentless forever going forward march. Soaring lead guitar and windy acoustic guitars wind around. If vocals had color I would say Grainne had an excellent forest green colored vocal on this. This is a keeper on my system.
“Colours of You,” is the sonic opposite of “Under the Blanket.” Lilting, melodic, a fresh new optimistic vocal with ringing acoustic guitars. This is a different Grainne. Deeper and friendlier.
Pacing on an LP is important and this song comes at just the right time. If I were a famous female vocalist who didn’t write her own songs I would begin mining the Grainne songbook. The tunes have a welcoming sound and many just sound like potential hits. Hopefully, Grainne will have the first opportunity to hit and break into the American market and find her deserving niche.
“Every time I jump into your ocean, the waves come right up over my head.” This is the quality so often a part of New Zealand’s great award-winning country-singer-songwriter Donna Dean. What a wonderful pairing these women would make.
“In Between,” is more pensive and has beautiful pedal steel and acoustic guitar. Grainne’s vocal approach on this is very Aimee Mann-like and that’s a compliment. It isn’t that she “sounds” like Aimee Mann – she is just in that realm of quality with this kind of material.
I continue to be impressed with the quality of Americana from Canada. I guess we can call it Northern Americana. I’m not surprised by it, after-all more than half of the legendary Bob Dylan backup group — The Band was from Canada. Then there’s Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Bruce Cockburn and Gordon Lightfoot — all from Canada and all quite respected in their fields.
The quality is definitely in abundance. The persistence of quality by artists who have yet to be acknowledged on a much larger stage just keeps coming from our northern neighbor and it’s quite good. Grainne is one of these artists and she has an all-encompassing talent that possesses varied songs, inventive melodies, ideas and she’s….interesting.
Many artists are talented but they forget that they are in show business. You must entertain to keep a level of interest. Why should anyone listen? You have to give a listener a reason. They are dedicating their time to your talent. The market is saturated and the airwaves are gluttons. Some artists do not deserve to be treated like yesterday’s newspaper. My point?
Grainne is interesting today and she will be interesting tomorrow.
I know I am not alone. As mentioned earlier, Grainne has already won awards in Canada and has been acknowledged as far away as Norway.
“The Rain,” – a poignant turn begins the album’s finale.
How far from country and Americana can you get when you sing a song as compelling as this? It’s a song that would hold an audience in their seats and not point them in the direction of the condiment counter or rest room. The title track “Looking For Sunshine,” continues in the Canadian Americana music vein. I hear Bruce Cockburn singing this, and maybe with Grainne by his side.
There’s just something about this narrative that continues the true Canadian storytelling/songwriting tradition. What makes this little song wonderful is how spare it is. Just Grainne on vocals, acoustic guitar, tambourine and Cora Westermann on background vocals. Grainne has a little of the late Judee Sill’s timbre in her voice – especially on this track –and this is what sets Grainne’s voice apart from an Aimee Mann.
Here, Grainne is mining some vintage styles and she is successfully making them all uniquely and originally her own.
John Apice / No Depression / October 18th 2012
Grainne Ryan’s website: http://www.grainne.ca/