Emma-Lee – Never Just a Dream Review

Welp, Canadian Music Week is coming up, so reviewing Emma-Lee‘s debut album is perfect timing to encourage people to check her out and consider seeing her live. Emma-Lee hails from our very own Toronto, and is an incredibly self-sufficient artist by self-producing, self-managing, self-promoting, and even self-photo-taking (although she is now co-managing with Bumstead). She has presented us with Never Just a Dream, an amalgamation of jazz, pop, folk, and ballads, re-released last week after joining the label.

At a glance, she is said to be comparable to the likes of Norah Jones, kd lang, and Feist. In fact, seems like there may be competition between the two a la Britney/Christina in the good old days of teen pop (as if it all matters anyway). It’s all easy to compare and contrast, but in my opinion Emma-Lee has a sound of her own (as with respect to the other artists mentioned here), which is what makes this album such a superb one.

Never Just a Dream leans towards a jazzy pop sort of style, with strong yet delicately caressing vocals (yeah, I said it– “caressing”) that is so well-rounded. From lighthearted and playful tunes such as “Jealousy” to heartfelt and pensive songs like “Where You Want to Be,” Emma-Lee has definitely got her vocals down pat–for someone who has never been formally taught, she has undoubtedly perfected her voice–even at times sounding more part of the instrumentation than as a focus. Take a listen to “Flow” and you’ll know what I mean.

It’s all beautiful. Just beautiful. It’s a mellowed-out album, with no desire to lose itself outside of this fact. It’s a record that compels you to fall into a relaxing state, despite the painful lyrics she often conveys. Lyrically she focuses on love and relationships, whether it be lost or warranted (especially with older men–see “An Older Man”). She isn’t wallowing in self-pity, rather she is a brilliant storyteller of liberation and empowerment as a woman. She is painfully blatant and probably disregards (or doesn’t really give a damn about) political correctness and social etiquette.

As said earlier, the record does learn toward more jazzy/poppy elements, and lots of songs make her influences obvious, from be bop to 50s blues/soul to contemporary folk pop. There is a focus on the instrumentation associated with these influences, so reminiscent of the classical lounge sounds back in the days. It sometimes does sound like she’s covering old tunes, what with the full band of horns, piano, clean guitars, and soft percussions. You won’t even hear a lot of electronic-based instruments, save the electric guitar, whose use in “Bruise Easily” is so appropriate to the bluesy feelings of the song as a whole. It’s excellently put together and produced, almost flawlessly so.

Being able to see Emma-Lee live would warrant a reason alone for me to check out the festivities of CMW. Since I’ll be lost among the craze of assignments and work, this sadly won’t happen. She is playing pretty much all around North America, playing in Texas after CMW (check out her MySpace for the full list of upcoming shows). Guess I’ll have to try to catch her when she comes back to play in Toronto in April.

MP3s removed by request.
Never Just A Dream by Emma-Lee


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