Canadian Musician - January / February - Page 39

with producer Dan Ledwell at his Echo Lake Studio. Brooks credits Ledwell as be- ing a major catalyst in their pivot towards a more commercial pop aesthetic. Together, they worked to whittle down a wider pool of songs at various degrees of completion to the 10 album tracks. “Some very obviously lent themselves to this pop feel and production style,” she begins, “though there was a handful that existed more in another world, so when we tried to integrate some of the pop ele- ments, it just wasn’t serving those songs.” Those were put on ice for a future project – quality tunes that simply didn’t fit the creative arc of this collection. Others, though, went through a bit of shape shift- ing of their own. “Some evolved pretty dramatically in the studio,” Brooks shares, “and there were challenges in, if you’d written something with a folky feel and then started integrat- ing more pop elements, the vocal delivery might need to change or the phrasing might need to change.” Therein lies the fun for these sea- soned songwriters and vocalists – “wrap- ping yourself into the song and making it exist in this world.” In some cases, that even meant reining in the multi-part harmonies on which The Good Lovelies’ brand has been built for a more dynamic overall vocal experience. With the album wrapped and ready for its February 2018 release, The Good Lovelies are now amidst the process of translating their new material to the live setting, and in doing so, they’ve realized their Echo Lake experience has also given them a fresh perspective on some of their back catalogue material. “We definitely want to integrate some of these newer elements into the old songs,” Brooks says. “It breathes some new life into them, and we’re not strangers to songs taking different forms in different scenarios.” The bottom line, she says, is that for a song to feel at home in The Good Lovelies camp, they should be able to hit the stage as a trio with an acoustic guitar and still make an emotional impact. As the songs on Shapeshifters prove, both in album and live form, these three voices interwoven with one another rarely deliver anything but. Micah Barnes The Essence of a City Micah Barnes is one of Canada’s most ac- complished and acclaimed jazz singers, though a few summers ago, he found himself as one of the millions of transplants residing in New York City. Barnes was in love, and between a burgeoning romance and longtime adoration of New York jazz, it was impossible not to be swept away in inspiration. “Billie Holiday stopped me in my tracks when I was 12 years old. Literally changed my world,” he begins. “I didn’t know you could be an artist who would interpret a song and create such a rich, poetic, emo- tionally intense but also sophisticated and intelligent approach to singing.” That approach – and the many adjec- tives that comprise it – is what Barnes was looking to capture with New York Stories, his 2014 collection of original songs inspired by the city’s seminal jazz scene of decades past. After all, the voices of Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and the like were integral to his development as a sing- er, and he saw the challenge of capturing their essence – and that of the city they (once) called home – as one of the biggest of his career. “There are no jazz singers in the world as strong as those that come from New York,” he says. “It pushes you to be the best. In the competitive world of jazz, you have to come correct or you don’t come at all.” And so, living with his partner – a Broadway performer – right above what was once the iconic Savoy Ballroom and a few blocks from the Apollo Theater, Barnes started writing. Limiting himself to a piano trio like those crammed onto the small stag- es of nearby clubs decades earlier – keys, bass, and drums – the music came relatively easy; tailoring his vocal approach to fit the music and its desired aesthetic, however, was a different matter. “My vocal style was still very much like, rock n’ roll, R&B – I was kind of a young Turk powerhouse singer,” says the onetime member of world-renowned Canadian a cappella outfit The Nylons. “I was still work- ing technically inside of that [Nylons] realm where I was pushing my voice to sound as passionate and intense as possible.” He’d been a self-described “lonely crazy person for a couple of decades,” and while his technical prowess is unrivaled as a vet- eran performer and longtime vocal teacher, he credits his then-newfound romance with opening up his emotional range. “As I start- ed to fall in love, I started to be able to sing differently – and I had to sing differently, because this music is very dynamic and rich and romantic. That’s really what changed my voice.” New York Stories offers some striking contrast when compared with Barnes’ work in The Nylons – not the least of which is ably handling sole vocal duties; however, his background in working so closely with other vocalists was valuable to one of the album’s true standouts: his duet with fellow Canadian jazz great Jackie Richardson on “New York Story.” “It’s like two really specific vocal worlds C A N A D I A N M U S I C I A N • 39