She puts a new spin on the old songs

FOR HER BIG-LA­BEL DE­BUT, SER­ENA RY­DER DIPS INTO A CANA­DIAN SONG BAG AND PULLS OUT SOME REAL PLUMS – IN­CLUD­ING TUNES YOU NEVER AS­SO­CI­ATED WITH EH-SAY­ERS FROM THE NORTH

Montreal Gazette - - Arts & Llife - BERNARD PERUSSE THE GAZETTE

Enough about the Great Amer­i­can Song­book, al­ready. There’s a Great Cana­dian Song­book, too – and singer-song­writer Ser­ena Ry­der is clearly among its big­gest fans.

She has taken the un­usual step of de­vot­ing most of her ma­jor-la­bel de­but on EMI, If Your Me­mory Serves You Well, to cel­e­brat­ing clas­sics from this side of the border.

The se­lec­tion will sur­prise those who didn’t know of the Canuck con­nec­tion to some of th­ese ever­greens.

Bob Dylan’s This Wheel’s on Fire, the song that gives the album its ti­tle, was co-writ­ten with Green’s Cor­ners, Ont., na­tive Rick Danko of the Band.

The Lovin Spoon­ful’s Co­conut Grove was writ­ten by the group’s mas­ter­ful melodist, John Se­bas­tian, with the Spoon­ful’s late gui­tarist, Toron­to­born Zal Yanovsky.

You Were on My Mind was a big hit for the San Fran­cisco quin­tet We Five, but it was penned by Chatham, Ont.’s own Sylvia Tyson – who makes a cameo ap­pear­ance on Ry­der’s ir­re­sistible reg­gae­in­flected ver­sion of the pop peren­nial.

It Doesn’t Mat­ter Any­more, the Buddy Holly clas­sic writ­ten by Ottawa boy Paul Anka, gets a bar­rel­house gospel makeover from Ry­der.

The disc also con­tains a prim­i­tive record­ing of Ry­der, now 24, singing the be­spec­ta­cled leg­end’s That’ll Be the Day at the age of 7, be­fore an ap­pre­cia­tive au­di­ence at the Li­ons Club in Mill­brook, Ont., her home­town.

“I was ob­sessed with Buddy Holly when I was younger,” she said in a re­cent in­ter­view at a Mon­treal ho­tel. “I had a vinyl record of his – and I loved Linda Ron­stadt.” Ron­stadt had cov­ered the Holly song, too.

Coin­ci­den­tally, the pre­co­cious child also per­formed Ron­stadt’s first big hit with the Stone Poneys – Michael Ne­smith’s Dif­fer­ent Drum – for the Li­ons Club.

Such strange links still echo on the new disc, Ry­der said.

“That’s the thing about this record,” she said. “Mu­si­cians are all tied to­gether. The tie is so old, and it’s beau­ti­ful. You can see how those lines are blurred be­tween where one style of mu­sic started, or where a song started and fin­ished. No­body owns a song. You can’t own art.”

Ry­der’s genes might have fore­told her eclec­tic taste in cov­ers. Her mother, Bar­bara, is a for­mer go-go dancer and backup singer, and her bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther, Glen Sorzano, was a mem­ber of the pop­u­lar Caribbean combo the Tradewinds, she said.

Yet most of her pre­vi­ous discs, which she be­gan re­leas­ing in­de­pen­dently at the age of 15, seemed to pre­dict a dif­fer­ent mu­si­cal path.

“My ear­lier stuff was diary mu­sic, very fe­male singer-song­writer, talk­ing about how it’s re­ally hard to ex­ist and live, and woe is me, and no one un­der­stands,” she said.

“I’ve been slowly re­al­iz­ing that lots of peo­ple un­der­stand and lots of peo­ple are in the same boat. Now my mu­sic’s more about con­nec­tion.”

It’s un­usual for a maiden ef­fort on a big la­bel to con­sist mostly of non-orig­i­nals, but the project seemed fated.

Frank Davies, founder of the Cana­dian Song­writ­ers Hall of Fame, met Sandy Pandya, Ry­der’s man­ager, at a CSHF show­case. Davies had been plan­ning a project cel­e­brat­ing Cana­dian song­writ­ers and Ry­der, Pandya told him, was keen on cov­er­ing some favourites.

Davies, Ry­der and pro­ducer Steve Mackin­non whit­tled their se­lec­tions down to 45 songs. Each made a short list of 12 and there was sub­stan­tial agree­ment.

Once the album was recorded, Fraser Hill, EMI Canada’s A&R di­rec­tor, caught Ry­der on stage and told her, fairy-tale like, to come in and talk. A con­tract was signed and the 12 cover songs were later aug­mented by three Ry­der orig­i­nals, in­clud­ing a cowrite with Randy Bach­man.

On one of the cov­ers, Ray­mond Lévesque’s Quand les hommes vivront d’amour, Ry­der sings in cred­itable Québé­cois French. She was coached by Liane de Lot­binière, she said.

“There were cer­tain vow­els I couldn’t re­ally pull off as be­ing Québé­cois,” Ry­der said. “At school, I was taught Parisian French, not Québé­cois French. (De Lot­binière) marked down all the dif­fer­ent sounds and we sat, and she’d be like ‘euuu,’ so I went back and fixed cer­tain vow­els.”

Lévesque’s plea for peace is among the tracks that give the disc an­other uni­fy­ing con­cept. “There’s a huge theme that ties all th­ese things to­gether,” Ry­der said. “War and peace and true love. Morn­ing Dew is about the apoc­a­lypse, which peo­ple are think­ing about more and more to­day. A lot of the sub­ject mat­ter is ab­so­lutely time­less. And a lot of the song­writ­ers on this record were pretty much my age when they wrote th­ese songs.”

Yet the sub­ject mat­ter isn’t all se­ri­ous. Ry­der brings wide-eyed ac­cep­tance to Good Morn­ing Starshine, from the hip­pie mu­si­cal Hair, and goes vampy on the 1936 big-band toe-tap­per Boo Hoo, which she said she’d like to see in a Quentin Tarantino fight scene. “It just re­ally brought me back to be­ing a lit­tle kid and start­ing to sing, back to mu­si­cals and fun,” she said of the song. “That re­ally helped bal­ance out the in­ten­sity of a lot of the other songs.”

It takes both sub­tlety and power to tackle a range of songs from Leonard Co­hen’s Sis­ters of Mercy to the torcher My Heart Cries for You on the same album, and Ry­der de­liv­ers the vo­cal goods.

She has had no train­ing. “I re­al­ize that I am blessed to be able to ex­press my truth with my voice,” she said. “And I’m very lucky to have known that since I was very young. I know a lot of peo­ple who are all grown up and still don’t know what they want to be. I’ve be­come aware at cer­tain points that there’s a power be­hind what I do that’s greater than me. And I re­spect that and I try and hon­our that as much as pos­si­ble.” Ser­ena Ry­der plays Café Cam­pus March 8 at 8 p.m. Tick­ets cost $12.50. Call 514-790-1245 or go to www.ad­mis­sion.com.

bpe­[email protected] thegazette.canwest.com

MAR­COS TOWNSEND THE GAZETTE

Ser­ena Ry­der has come a long way since she sang Buddy Holly tunes for the Li­ons in her home town at age 7, but she hasn’t lost her way.

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