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Montreal-based singer Elizabeth Shepherd gently stirs jazz with an underground pop aesthetic in Signal. Similar to the fresh styles of contemporaries such as Esperanza Spalding and Gretchen Parlato, Shepherd's appeal is heard in her multifaceted gifts as a songwriter, musician, and composer; attributes which garnered her a Juno Award nomination for Best Vocal Jazz Album for her 2012 release Rewind (Linus Entertainment).
Signal takes a soulful groove-centric stance with tight rhythmic hooks and beats that would fit comfortably in a club-like setting as some tracks segue into one another like a DJ set mix. The music is on point with strong performances from Shepherd's band and the noticeable inclusion of guitarist Lionel Loueke who brings his signature West African styling on select tracks starting with the hypnotic opener "Willow."
First the music grabs you, Shepherd's keyboard skills providing groovy Fender Rhodes accents or trippy MOOG synth tones in "Lion's Den" a tune which develops into a serious groove with a Miles DavisTutu-esque trumpet solo. Second, there are no syrupy love ballads or party-like-there's-no-tomorrow songs. Instead, these lyrics poetically address a range of social issues such as the exploitation of farmers ("B.T.Cotton"), gun violence/racial profiling ("Another Day") and a tribute to the perseverance of Mother Teresa ("I Gave").
Shepherd's inventive way with composition, words, and ideas is equally balanced throughout the album, heard in the way a funky acoustic bass vamp sways with a melodic vocal arrangement, sampled voices of historic figures in songs, or the tropical sound of steel pans. The title song based on a sampled loop creates Déjà vu lyric sequence between Shepherd and vocalist Alex Samaras as the two rich voices intricately intertwine and articulate an unconventional love story.
Shepherd'sSignal seductively draws you into its world and delivers music for both the mind and body.
Track Listing: Willow; What's Happening; B.T. Cotton; The Signal; Lion's Den; This; On Our Way; I Gave; Another Day; Baby Steps.
Personnel: Elizabeth Shepherd: vocals, Fender Rhodes, kalimba, sampling, piano, modified piano, MOOG; tuned bottles; Scott Kemp: bass, vocals (3, 6, 7, 8 ); Colin Kingsmore: drums (2-5, 9); Larnell Lewis: drums, vocals (6, 7, 9); Lionel Loueke: guitar, vocals (1, 6, 9); Ross MacIntyre: bass (1, 4, 5, 9, 10); John Maclean: clapping, flute, ngoni (1, 8, 10); Mark Mosca: steel pans (3); Alex Samaras: vocals (4 ); Scott Kemp: bass (2 ,3, 6-8);
Yvette Tollar: vocals (9); Roman Tome: acoustic roar machine (5), drums (1, 10); Kevin Turcotte: trumpet (5, 10); Joshua Van Tassel: drums (8).
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