A Capella Mondays: because songs are for singing!
Back in the pre-Covid-19 world of a few weeks ago, I started something here in Edmonton called the Monday Legislature Sing-In. The idea was to gather a group of singers together once a week at noon to sing songs at the Legislative Building – like, literally and transitively, to stand facing the building and sing AT it – to empower ourselves and to use our voices in protest of the relentless attacks on our most vital infrastructures and institutions by the United Conservative Party’s provincial government, and to hopefully annoy some of them while we were at it.
But we only got one of these Sing-Ins in before the virus hit Alberta, and we had to call it off.
Then, a few days ago when I went to my daughter’s school to pick up her lesson books and other materials, I ran into another parent who is a fantastic singer and professional actor. And she bemoaned to me the fact that she doesn’t play an instrument, because all she wants to do in the wake of all this upheaval is sing, but she isn’t able to accompany herself. I thought about this a lot after I got home, because I also find that I have the almost-constant urge to sing these days. And if she does and I do, maybe lots of other folks do too. So I thought about making some simple instructional videos on how to chord along on the piano to some easy, classic songs, for those with a yen. But I didn’t get very far with this idea. Because first of all, who has time to do that with two kids at home ALL DAY, EVERY DAY? And secondly, you don’t really need an instrument to sing. You ARE the instrument. Hell, according to the Anglo-American folk tradition, singing unaccompanied is the only proper way to do it.
But it’s true that not all songs are as good for singing a capella as others. So, as an offering to anyone anyone out there who’s dying to sing and doesn’t know what to sing, I’m going to post a video of me singing an unaccompanied song once a week. And I’m going to do it Mondays at noon, so that it also keeps the spirit of the Sing-In alive. (They won’t always be protest songs. But sometimes they will be.) And then you can learn it yourself if you like!
To see all the vids that are up so far, click here.
And if you are inspired to do some unaccompanied singing, of these songs or any others, post 'em and send me a link. I wanna see!
The Waning of the Year
This is the time of year when the veil between worlds is thinnest, so it is said, and maybe that’s why everything feels ephemeral and impermanent in the fall. It is the most transitional of the seasons, especially following on the heels of summer, shining and blindly confident in its supremacy despite the briefness of its reign. Fall knows it is there simply to lead us into the darkness. And we follow, entranced. And if we embrace - surrender to - that quiet journey into the dark, can we indeed lift that veil and access the world of spirit, of our ancestors? Can we find them in ourselves and feel the assurance of their hard-earned wisdom, and feel also the pain and grief of the wounds they need our help to heal?
It is from this rich and shadowy place that I am finishing off the first draft of a new show I’m writing, a show that will combine music and theatre, and that both chronicles and embodies my own attempt to lift the veil on my maternal ancestral line, so that my own children might grow up with a sense of rootedness and belonging. It sounds heavy, maybe, though it’s really not - as always, I’m striving for depth more than weight - and it’ll have some yuks too! I’ve just confirmed that the show will debut in Edmonton in Summer 2020, so keep your ears open. I’m already very excited to share this work with the world.
A New Baby, and a CFMA nod
On Thursday September 20th, I went on Facebook to post on our neighbourhood page about my cat who had just gone missing, and the first thing I saw was a post from my pal Scott Cook congratulating me on my nomination for a Canadian Folk Music Award for Contemporary Singer of the Year. It was a crazy moment; I didn't know how to feel! (I also received a rejection about a grant application that day, so it was a day of contrasts and a good reminder to keep things in perspective and stay true to the path through the ups and downs.) The following night I went into labour, and at 7:12 am on Saturday September 22nd Grayson Autumn Blackie was born in our living room, just as the sky started to illuminate a beautiful snowfall that made the first day of fall look more like Christmas morning. What a bounty, a couple of days before the harvest moon.
So I'm taking a bit of time off from gigging – though I'll take a hiatus from the hiatus to perform at the CFMA ceremony in Calgary on November 30th! – but do check the SHOWS page to see what's brewing so far for next year. Happy Fall! Wishing bounty and abundance to everyone!
Summer Shows in Alberta
It's a busy summer of festival shows, house shows, and a few other things, all over Alberta. Hope to see lots of you out and about. I'm having a baby at the end of September, so after the summer tapers off that'll be it for me! At least for a while... The 2019 calendar is filling up with some exciting shows (including Women of Folkways, with Maria Dunn and Kaia Kater – always my favourite), a Home Routes tour in BC, the debut of a new show I'm developing featuring the songs of legendary French singer Edith Piaf, work on a new album, and a trip to the UK. But let me not get ahead of myself. Hope to see you sometime this summer!
The New Album is Out!
After a ring-dinger of an Edmonton release show on October 6th, The Earth That You're Made Of hit #6 on the Earshot national folk/roots/blues chart, and #3 on the CKUA chart.
Here's a sample of the praise it's received so far:
"Crystal clear voice, skilfully constructed songs and formidable piano, guitar, and arrangement chops…it's the songs that make this album a winner." – Penguin Eggs Magazine
"Her voice has an arresting purity that slides between strength and vulnerability…she plays acoustic and electric guitars, piano and keyboards and even penned horn or string arrangements for half the tracks on her latest album…even with all those extras Wylie’s voice and songwriting remain the highlight of the set." – Roger Levesque, Edmonton Journal
"Subtle and lulling, her voice is the sound you’d hear in a forest haunted by benevolent ghosts." – Michael Dunn, BeatRoute Magazine
“…one of the finest contemporary roots recordings to have ever been produced in Alberta, period.” – Peter North, Artistic Director, Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival
"I think that Wylie is a rare contemporary musician who has refreshed and strengthened this good old genre…while staying true to its essence. It’s stardust folk." Hande Eagle, UK-based arts writer and translator
November 12, 2017
When the new album was released last month, I cheekily asked my friend, Turkish writer and translator Hande Eagle, if she would review it – despite the fact that she isn't currently working for any particular publication that might print it. I was just curious to see what would happen if she wove the workings of her unique heart and mind into the sounds on the record. She did not disappoint! Her words are a generous and beautiful gift. And she also generously gave her permission for me to publish them here. So here they are!
Dana Wylie’s fifth studio album “The Earth That You’re Made Of” is a culmination of many years of travelling through the world and the folks she met along the way. I am one of those fortunate souls who had a wonderful “chance encounter” with her back in 2014 when she was touring the UK with her band. I had heard a lot about her “crystal-clear” angel singing from mutual friends and I was curious to hear her live. Not only was I taken by her soulful and gentle demeanour but also sparks of the wild spirit I caught a glimpse of there and then. When Dana started singing I could feel the ground beneath my feet raising me, I could sense the nature of her music holding me, consoling me.
Then a couple of weeks ago, I came home and found a mustard yellow envelope in my mailbox. I knew immediately what it was before I even slit the paper with my trusted ruler. The best autumn listening I could have hoped for had finally arrived. I took the CD off its three-fold cover beautifully designed by Edmonton based artist Kendel Vreeling and just under it, a clean wreathe read, “A special thanks to L.C. for giving us a secular Hallelujah through which to submit to the irreconcilable mess with grace, attention and joy”. A truly timely tribute to legendary Canadian poet, musician and singer Leonard Cohen…
Listening time and time over to the first song, “Hallelujah Leonard Cohen Hallelujah” I found a sense of myself in the song filled with references to Cohen originals such as “Ain’t No Cure for Love”, “The Tower of Song”, “A Thousand Kisses Deep” and I go back to the summer of 2008 when I watched Cohen live in Istanbul… a deep sigh and a hat tip, and indigo darkness. Then a few years later, I would try my hand at translating a few of his poems from Book of Longing into Turkish. They are still on the back of my mind as I juggle with the meter and consonance of his lyrics. What truly astonished me was how perfectly Dana Wylie translated his oeuvre into a single, steady folk song. I think that Wylie is a rare contemporary musician who has refreshed and strengthened this good old genre – tucked away from the reach of populists – while staying true to its essence. It’s stardust folk.
The title track, “The Earth That You’re Made Of” is a sweet and sour declaration of a break-up and consequential healing. The lyrics “Escape the past / at last / the past is not coming back / nor is it going away” later followed by beautiful improvised vocals add a touch of soul and blues reminiscent of Etta James, another rainbow of sound who faded not so long ago.
The autumnal feel of this new album will be very apparent to those of us who feel the transition from summer to winter and directly find change in ourselves every time this time of the year comes knocking at our door. And that’s what I find in the track listing on the back cover of the album. It reads like a poem, an untraditional haiku: “Hallelujah Leonard Cohen Hallelujah / Stand Your Ground, Young Man / The Earth That You’re Made Of / Ten Thousand Miles / Let No Man Steal Your Thyme / You Are Good, You Are Kind / When You Are Old / Sliver of a Moon / Dig in Your Roots and Grow / Nothing Left To Do.”
In a way, that’s how the album is; it rolls along and takes us through the familiar story of life, our processes of packing away memories, shedding our skin and giving in to ourselves. “You Are Good, You Are Kind” reveals insight into old love found anew and how we can be kind in accepting our past differences and the pain we suffered. Featuring a wonderfully melodious string quartet (Nick Drake rings in my ears as I listen), Wylie’s punchy piano and steady rising brasses, this song could potentially serve as a fantastic soundtrack to a Remodernist film.
Drawn to the moon like a planet orbiting it, Dana Wylie is connected to all things ethereal and she reflects this in “Sliver of a Moon”, a song that’s all the more enigmatic for its lyrics. Interpretations are boundless but the musicality is certain.
There is light towards the end of the Wylie tunnel. “Dig in Your Roots and Grow”, a song about the years she spent travelling (with particular emphasis on her time in Taiwan) and how true love takes its course through the earth that we are made of: if experience was to be represented by leaf mould, and time by sand and grit, and healing meant nailing down a perfect ratio of these elements to compose the most suitable soil to dig in our roots and grow… The farm girl from Saskatchewan has matured into a sublime poet, singer and songwriter with her feet solidly on the ground.