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2009-02-17 —

New CD from Joanna Chapman-Smith

CD review!

With great anticipation, 1 month-ish ago I ordered the second CD, Contraries, from Canadian artist Joanna Chapman-Smith, and couldn’t wait to wrap my ears round it, really not knowing what at all to expect. After receiving her first CD, Eyre Corvidae, about 3 years ago from her sister, Catherine, (then later buying it to support independent music) I have been really excited about what the next effort from Jo would carry to my ears. I am not disappointed.

If this sounds familiar to any of you, it’s because I reviewed the first CD here. Why not go back and take a look?

Where Eyre Corvidae fit very comfortably into the ‘Folk’ genre and was a stripped down and guitar-based CD, Contraries does not and is not. This CD is a musical soundscape that is a rich, lush journey from Canada to Europe, and makes you want to hitch up your skirt and break out in high-stepping dance with the gypsies. A few songs have a Yiddish folk-song feel to them, and the mood they express –the feel is so catchy, so addictive, that you are sucked in. You just can’t help it. It’s almost reminiscent of a few pieces that Danny Elfman has written for Tim Burton’s movies over the years. Fun, whimsical, GOOD. Don’t be surprised to hear these songs in movies. This CD could be a movie a soundtrack. I’m not kidding.

A different cast of characters instrumentally charm these songs, lending the different moods in many. The accordion, masterfully played by Dawn Roe is nigh ubiquitous on this CD, appearing on fully half of the songs, and coupled with Jo’s clarinet, they sing together with their own voice, their own harmonies, and the blend of them together is magic. It’s not just the instrumentation either, it’s the composition. Like her first CD, Joanna writes brilliantly lyrically and musically, but here she takes a step further and embraces a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural background of stylings and presents it in such a delicious way that I just can’t get enough.

Contraries has something for everyone. The first track begins with a wistful electric piano and longing vocals, with a minimal taste of accordion, then gets a catchy little groove and builds, adds some drums and grabs you. It has up-beat jazz-poppy hooks like in the second track “Arbitrary Lines”, which is a really fun song with guitar, clarinet, accordion, fun jazzy drums, stand-up bass. It has a bit of swing feel in the third track “A Glass of Right & Wrong”. A bit of a cappella in the fourth track “Body Language”, and when we get to track 5 we are treated to an introspective look at relationships with the somber and beautiful “Between the Minds”. When we get to track 6, “Things Are Gonna Go Wrong”, we are into a sultry sort of lounge blues/jazz groove that just feels good, and is not a negative song, so don’t read too much into the title. “Tactile World” is track 7, and it starts with a street market snake-charmer feeling accordion riff that grabs you right away and won’t let go of your attention, even though the song is musically unobtrusive. It’s just catchy. And it’s got a gorgeous musical interlude right in the middle. Go figure.

Track 8, “Melodies” has the coolest count-in I’ve ever heard in music, and has a chilly, European city feel to it, again with the accordion, clarinet, and brushed drums. Lots of stops in this (and other songs) are part of what add to its whimsy too. Awesome. “Klezbian Mother”, #9, is an instrumental piece, in Klezmer style, of course, and it is brilliant. It starts out with just Jo on the clarinet, and after a few bars her clarinet seems to be saying “wait for it…” sure enough, you’re not disappointed when the bass, accordion, and drums kick in, and this piece is so much fun that you just can’t sit still! Track 10 is a bit of an outro to 9.

Track 11, “In the Quiet” is a passionate, piano-driven song with accompanying violin here and there that has a wonderful dynamic and life all its own. Beautiful. Track 12, “For Good”, brings us a cello as the string accompaniment, and is yet another well-written piece about finality. Thus the title. Speaking of finality, the last track on the CD of this musical adventure, “Carnival Song”, is another piano song, sort of melancholy, but nice and wrapping up the CD with a little carousel note at the very end.

For anyone that loves folksy-type world music. This CD is a must. For those of you who know me, both as a person and as a musician, you know my passion for music runs deep, and you also know that I don’t give high praise lightly. This CD is a must-own. You can buy it through Joanna’s website or save a step and go straight to CD Baby, which is where her website would direct you anyhow. Do check out her website.

Joanna is a singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, who leads a double-life as a solo artist and session musician, as well as part of another band called Lily Come Down. She currently lives in Vancouver, BC, but was raised in Toronto, ON.

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