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I Am | Grace
album review and artist reflections
More Colette Baron-Reid:
Magdalene's Garden Review and Interview (2001)
review, interview and HTML © Russell W Elliot 2004
Images © EMI Music Canada
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Last updated: 28 December 2004
Regular Musical Discoveries readers will recall our interview with Colette Baron-Reid in 2001 to support the release of her album Magdalene's Garden (review). The album became a runaway success for the Canadian singer songwriter. Produced by Eric Rosse, the album drew significant attention from Kate Bush and Tori Amos enthusiasts. Our interview explored her musical background leading to the release. During the period following the album's release and current day, Colette has been working on her latest project--I Am / Grace (EMI Canada 72438-74969-2-7, 2004).
Colette has also drawn significant attention from the media and the public for her work as an intuitive. And her dual careers are reflected in the latest project with the first collection of the two-CD set being alternative tracks filled with Colette's vocals backed by rich worldly instrumentals and the second being a highly meditative reflection on eight tracks. We caught up with Colette for an all-new and exclusive interview earlier this month and provide a review of the new project below.
Musical Discoveries: It's well known that you have a two-career path life. Can you tell us a bit how the two careers interact with each other?
Colette Baron-Reid: Ah yes, my two-career path life is pretty unique and at times I scratch my head as I look at how my life has evolved and wonder. My story began sixteen years ago when in typical "artist needing day job" fashion I had decided to study and certify as an aromatherapist since I could have more flexible hours to pursue my music. As soon as I began touching people I began picking up intimate details and information of the persons life and of course I'd tell them about what I saw.
Within six months more people booked appointments to talk to me and to see what I saw about them than getting aromatherapy massage. I never in a million years thought it would turn into my career. I was only interested in being a singer /songwriter and in a way saw this natural "otherness" of mine intrusive to my real goal. I remember telling people after a session, "I don't really do this I'm really a singer blah, blah, blah."
Of course here I am now with clients in 21 countries never advertising and booked months in advance so it goes to really show you man plans and God laughs. Its been an extraordinary journey really as not only has it proved to me in ways too numerous to go into here about the vast connectedness of the human spirit to the Divine and how the illusion of our experience with time and space imposes on reality. But most important it has influenced my perspective on life which in turn has deeply affected my ability to express myself thru music.
Can you tell us about the early years and how things evolved from there?
I never expected my career to take this long. I saw myself in my 20s as singing full time with a record deal, etc. Of course I failed over and over to get the attention of the labels always out of step with the times. It was so disheartening because my attatchment to my goal didn't allow for anything else to mean anything to me. In a way it was good that I was so unattatched to the intuitive work because indeed it was the perfect way to allow for its organic unfolding without any interference by my will and desires.
I really suffered in those early years because my self worth was so wound up in being a successful recording artist. I had doggedly pursued it at the expense of everything else and of course was devastated when I couldn't get anywhere. Of course perspective is everything. Hindsight is alway 20/20. My success as an intuitive--I don't use the word psychic as it implies the supernatural and I think what I do is natural--was rapid and after countless failures at music I had to get over the stigma that I actually thought I was a freak to do what I did.
Once I moved past that and surrendered to the obvious. I threw myself into the one and quit music for a time. I held seminars on intuitive development across the US and Canada and the UK using music as a background for visualization excercises. Met up with Mars Lasar to create a way I could bridge my spiritual work with music a few years later since I figured singing would be a longshot and created the spoken word best selling meditation CD Journey Through The Chakras which my partner Deenah Mollin and I under our partnership company Cosmic Cookie ended up licencing to EMI. All these synchronistic events lined up to place me smack dab in a major label who saw me as a famous intuitive not as a singer at all! How ironic was that!
And what about Magdalene's Garden?
So the magic came when I approached Eric Rosse, Tori Amos' first producer who had done the soundtrack for this documentary I was in called Hand of Fate to do a follow-up CD. He knew I was a singer and when I got down to LA he presented me with a couple trax that led to the creation of Magdalene's Garden. EMI president Deane Cameron gave me a shot based on the demos and Colette the singer/songwriter was reborn against all odds I found myself exactly where I wanted to be twenty years before. So both careers have existed side by side one feeding the other for a few years now. I'm proud of all of it and incredibly grateful.
One thing I have learned however is that just because you get the deal doesn't mean you're gonna sell a ton of CDs. My first music project reviewed here in 2001 got great critical acclaim but in my estimation was modest in its success to reach the marketplace. The label didn't know what to do with me and the traditional way of putting out a pop album wasn't the way to go plus my agent at the time didn't get me bookings and I was like a deer caught in the headlights. Nevertheless it was a big success given how it all came about and I'm proud of it. The big test was this new CD I Am/ Grace.
Our readers want to know what kind of music to compare each of the two CDs in the set to. What should we tell them?
There are two CDs in this new project because I wanted to bridge both of my careers in one creative expression to offer my listeners two experiences as I myself have this duality. One, I Am, is the seven-song CD and the other, Grace, is the ambient atmospheric CD to help in meditation and contemplation.
I'd say I Am was best described by my brand mgrs in the UK they say, "Take a bowl of Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush mix it up with Seal and Sting and add a dash of Madonna and you have Colette." That's what they say anyway. So how about the first CD is a world-music influenced pop CD with themes of love, loss, addiction , redemption and standing up for who I am.
The second one is chillout Enigma-like with a touch of Lisa Gerard. I dunno; you might come up with a better description than me ha, ha, ha! Chanting in parts, cool nature sounds definitely not fromage! Oceanic but very cool five minutes of guided spoken word and 55 minutes of music to float to.
What artists have had the most influence on your music?
So many artist have influenced my work its hard to mention all of them but I'd say these mostly: Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, Sinead O'Connor, Fairport Convention, Genesis, Sting, Seal, Joni Mitchell, any traditional Celtic music, Crosby, Stills and Nash, The Byrds. I'm totally dating myself now!
Contrast the two CDs in the new double album to your past release.
The latest project is very different from Magdalene's Garden in so many ways. First, Eric and I wrote and recorded Magdalene's Garden in seven weeks in one long creative burst. I loved working like that at the time because its all we focused on. Eric helped me waken my voice and my songwriting took on a whole new turn as we experimented together. I had not sung a note in about five years nor even considered writing a song except for three I wrote with Mars that was complementary to the seven Chakras, but with Eric it was immediate now reaching deep into some well that only he was able to guide me too. It was so profound.
When EMI gave me the nod to do another CD, however, I knew I had to prove to myself that I was what I had found. I knew there was a deeper place in me only I could find and so I ventured out and started writing with other artists. I was trying to hard to find a body of work to fit the marketplace though always in the back of my mind going, "This can sell here, ok. This is like so and so and the Americans will like it, or ok, this will fly in Europe."
So how did you decide on the production team?
After about a year I knew I wasn't hitting the mark so I stopped for a bit and really searched my soul and gave up the idea of trying to be anything or any kind of artist. My whole other career is about helping people find their authentic selves and being accountable for how they create their future realities and what lessons are in their path, etc. I decided to turn that light on myself. So I decided I would write whatever felt resonant to my soul. Whatever singing made me soar whatever truth I wanted to tell. Then I was ready to find a production partner.
Magdalene's Garden was lush in its production with layers upon layers of Eric's wonderful intrumentation and tons of my vocal arrangements. This time I wanted the work to be more naked as I strove to reveal myself. I had to know if I was really what I thought I was. I needed to know I had the chops. I didn't want to bury my voice in much electronic production. I wanted to sing in your ear as if I was right next to you. I needed to get real with myself. And so I did.
I found my partners in the Juno award winning Canadian production team the Boomtang Boys most known for their success as dance music artists and acid jazz and kool jazz guys. I wanted guys that knew rhythm and would be willing to experiment. They were looking for an artist that was from an eclectic place they hadn't explored before and the rest is history.
And how long did the project take?
This CD took 18 months to write and record with lots of songs written and discarded and only those that really felt right whether they fit together or not was what we kept. My admiration for these talented men can never be expressed. They couldn't be more different than me in lifestyle, beliefs and experience and yet we found a place where none of that mattered or counted that musical expression of the spirit that can only be found in surrendering to the magic of the process and the letting down of barriers and borders.
The fun part was taking out the stuff we had so painstakingly recorded to find a more spacious sound. I wrote all the lyrics and melodies and they allowed me a co-production seat. I can't say that this was better than the last record but it certainly is a statement to my evolution as an artist. The meditation CD was a last minute idea as it made more and more sense to create the bridge between the worlds. And so it became I Am / Grace.
Where do you draw inspiration for your music and lyrics?
My inspiration comes from my life experience and what I have found in that and from the world around me and how it has affected me. I'm not one of these artists that write jounrlistic commentaries on things outside of themselves altho I'd love to know how to write those kind of "songstories" usually my songs are personal and revelatory.
Music of course comes from how I am inspired by what my writing partner presents to me so its as much about what he's been inspired by too. Rob de Boer co-wrote all the music elements with me Tony Grace, most of the rhythm so they were a huge influence on what was created this time.
Tell us about a couple of songs that are extremely special to you.
"Beauty in Hard Places" particularly meant the most as I wrote the song myself on guitar at home. I am as you know a recovering drug addict alcoholic and this songs speaks to finding the unconditional love and support I found as I reclaimed my dignity in those early times. Its also about finding connection in times of difficulty to a lover or even to God when we can't see ourselves clearly.
"Coming Home" was the song that I wrote to tell my boyfriend of only three months how I felt about him and was the only way I knew how to ask him if he returned my feelings. We are together two years now. He was kinda freaked out when he heard it ha, ha, ha, ha. I can't imagine ha, ha.
Can you tell us about how your material comes together?
The guys give me a track and I write the song on top ... or I come up with chords and I go la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la until something comes out. I usually know what I want to write about first though. As long as I'm not being too "crafty" it's usually not too stressful. Then again it can be excruciating. I didn't want to write "Here and Now." I had so much resistance for months we had that track. And kaboom. One day out she came.
Let's switch to live performances. What can you tell us about your live performances?
I love singing live. I don't get to do it enough but I did do a mini-tour with Magdalene's Garden and I'm really hoping to get out more with this CD. We've done four dates so far and have had two standing ovations so I think people like it when the music is performed live.
The live presentation of this CD is much different than my last one. With Magdalene's Garden I did a cross Canada tour and sang in radio stations and did a bunch of club dates all of which was good to do as it pushed me to develop my confidence as a live performer. I had phenomenal players with me and the show was pretty good.
I played at this amazing street festival in Winnipeg in front of 20,000 people and shared the bill with some pretty amazing bands from around the world. My favorite one was the Commitments from the UK. Of course I loved the movie and the music so it was a thrill to be on the same bill never mind being infront of that many people.
How do the audiences react to your on-stage persona?
The audiences so far are digging what we are doing. My band now consists of me Rob and Tony playing live with some recorded tracks and we also use a fuller band when we do an unplugged version. I signed to the Leigh Bureau in New Jersey and we are hoping to perform at some corporate functions this year as well as putting a theatrical / festival / soft seater concert tour in motion throughout 2005. We shall see--have gig, will show up.
One important date this year in Toronto though will be The Power Within for Women April 29th with Naomi Judd and Martin Luther King's daughter as speakers. I'm really looking forward to that. It's not a full time thing; it can't be. I'm writing a book, doing my readings, creating a new seminar series.
What should audiences expect this time around?
I knew this CD had to be different though. I didn't want to play clubs anymore and I wanted to gear the performance around a more secure listening environment like a theater as this new project is also about telling stories. I've created the perfomance around very specific stories--I guess you could say one woman show--on inspiration and life lessons and then I tell the stories through the songs.
The show is about finding one's way through the quagmires of life, about truth and denial, suffering, redemption, and finding ones authenticity. The first time I did this was our very first gig as a band this summer at a convention for Lance Secretan and his organization. He is a leader in the field of bringing spiritual values to corporate culture. I got a standing ovation after the performance and immediately signed to an American agent from a speakers' bureau who saw the opportunity to have me peform at corporate events.
I seem to get the same response when I've gone out so far and I'm further developing the idea of turning into a more theatrical version with characters talking, etc.
What would you like our readers to know about your work outside of music? Do any of your readings influence the music in an interesting way?
I think its impossible to not be influenced by my experience as an intuitive after all I have seen very intimate details of over 9,000 people's lives and have been so moved by this extraordinary privilege. You will have to read my upcoming book if you want to know more!
One thing I will say this CD speaks directly to my experience in two of the songs, specifically, "I Am" and "Here and Now." I reference my work in the lyric of both songs. "I Am" talks about being marginalized as an intutitve. There's only so many times you can have somebody project their prejudice about the professions validity without speaking to it. "I don't believe in that," has been a relatively common response to my telling a stranger what I do for a living. Its a shame really as its all very real but until one actually has the experience I can see why its hard to get around. Then again we all used to believe the world was flat at one time too.
"Here and Now" talks about my understanding the the future is not "out there" but created and recreated in the moment. So it kinda makes a bit of tongue and sheek reference to a crytal ball.
In the time when so many artists are going independent, how would you say it has been to work with a major label?
Ah yes the major label thing. Well, bottom line I'm thrilled they are supporting me because it has lent quite a bit of credibility to my career. I have the best marketing manager on the planet who talks to me every day so I feel looked after. On the other hand I'm a little nervous about being lost in the shuffle but only time will tell. I do owe them a ton of money now too.
Are there any things you would like to change?
I'd like to change the border thing as I'm signed in Canada world wide but that doesn't mean the other label partners will want me. The biggest drawback with a major is that they are looking for numbers to keep them selves in business. My label however could have very well dropped me by now but they are more like an indy in that they really are into artist development. I don't have any complaints frankly. I'm here. They are doing what they can. I'm very lucky.
How do you think the internet has contributed to your career thusfar and what do you think the future of the internet holds for you?
The internet has been good to keep connected to my fans and been slowly proving to be a viable means of getting my music known in places it might not thru the traditional "music biz" way. I'm hoping to see more results this time around. I worked closely with these genius tech guys EMI hired to create artist sites. I'm totally happy with my new www.colettebaronreid.com.
When you dream of the future of your music and where you might go as an artist, what do you see?
You know this is a good question and one that I think about often. On one hand I like to believe that dreaming big is important that to have ambition and aspiration is key but I also know I can only do what I can to create the best music I can to move people to inspire others as I have been inspired by artists too.its a tough business and good music isn't alway enough to be a success.
There's a big machine out there and all of us are somewhat dependent on that to get heard. Then of course there's synchronicity and the divine working anonymously too. I know I can't define myself by my outer success and I have to hold some humility. I don't want to be too attatched to the outcome here but, boy-oh-boymI'd be such a liar if I didn't say I had a dream.
Of course for this CD I want it to reach a million people and touch their hearts and then maybe a million more and on and on. I know I don't have any desire to be a "big famous" artist for fame's sake. But I would be really happy to have a lucrative career, get to do another CD, write songs with other artists and hear my stuff on film and on TV And I'd really love to play live in my dream venue in Toronto called Old Massey Hall.
I also want to sing in front of thousands of people with a great sound system. This is fun. I'm totally rambling now ... I'd love to work with Peter Gabriel on something. I'd love to see the dance remix of "Black Swan" hit the streets. I just don't ever want it to end. The next five years I want to know that my music has been heard and enjoyed outside of Canada.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell Musical Discoveries readers?
Well, I think I'd like to say to the Musical Discoveries readers that I'm incredibly grateful that this website exists. I've been turned on to some amazing artists I had never heard of before. This is really the best website to learn about great female talent from around the world. I'm also thrilled to be interviewed again for this CD and I guess the last thing I'd like to say is shameless self-promotion and I hope you'll order my CD!
Big and giant hugs to all. Thanks for having me back!
I Am. Colette's album opens with a seven-track song-based CD that is certain to appeal to those that enjoyed Magdalene's Garden and albums with the familiar Celtic edge and the feel of Enya, Clannad, Loreena McKennitt and Aeone. The album opens with the upbeat number "Coming Home," Colette's lead vocals soaring above the rich progressive Celtic instrumental arrangements and her own harmony backing vocals.
A tender and contemplative ballad accompanied by piano entitled "Beauty In Hard Places" features Colette's evocative vocals atop very light keyboard arrangements. It truly demonstrates the artist's superb vocal dexterity and outstanding delivery. Strings and piano production elements between the verses provide a special texture to the track.
The upbeat, pop-influenced standout track "I Am" drives the album forward with rich production and an especially robust and worldly rhythm section. Colette explores her full vocal range and demonstrates superb power in singing the number. The haunting texture of "Mariane" balances Colette's meditative chants with an evocative lead vocal part and highly varied arrangements. The melody of the sparsely arranged chorus is carried by Colette's vocal.
"Here and Now" is a powerful yet downtempo number with a bluesy edge. Again Colette's powerful and wide-ranging vocal carries the melody atop the keyboard-based arrangement. She is echoed by backing harmonies and strings deep in the production. The song's powerful climax combines layers of vocals, Colette soaring in the lead, with extremely lush instrumentation.
Colette's lead vocal perfectly suits the starkly arranged opening of the Celtic-edged "Black Swan." Percussion builds tempo while additional instrumentation adds a richness to this track. Listen carefully in the chorus for the Kate Bush allusions. And pay attention to the dance remix rhythm section in the song's mid-section. It is a wonderfully robust number. The CD concludes with the stunning standout "Find My Way Home." Rhythmic percussion and cinematic instrumental texture perfectly supports the stunning vocal delivery.
Grace. The second CD of Colette's latest release is comprised of eight meditative tracks. It opens with a brief spoken word introduction that runs right into "Calm," a 10-minute epic filled with woodwinds, soft percussion and other atmospherics. We listened to the CD immediately following a battle with our computer's printer.
Listeners are encouraged to listen to the CD in complete quiet; our Bose noise-cancelling headphones worked fine. By the time this track had concluded all anxiety and stress had left our mind, body and soul. The recording continues with "Light," a tenderly played piano-based track with a contemplative melody.
Colette's lovely vocalise joins layers of keyboard foundation while carrying the evocative main melody in "Deep," which continues to explore the meditative mood of the CD. Filled with further seaside atmospherics of water, wind and birds, "Sprit" is a percussive track joined with layers of keyboards and guitars that work together to produce the song's repetitive melody. Colette's vocalise rejoins the music in "Prayer" atop a light and droning keyboard wash. It is the layers of Colette's searching vocals, with additional contributions from other voices and samples, in this song that sets it apart from "Deep" echoing melodies with iconic religious timbres arising from the percussion that completes the arrangements.
"Faith" is a lighter number with percussion and keyboards playing against bird sounds as the track opens. Woodwinds and keyboard washes add further texture and melody as the arrangement builds. The cinematic feel is reminscent of soundtracks that accompany reality TV shows on deserted islands. Water sounds and further animal noises introduce "Gentle," before keyboards expose the song's melody. The number is perhaps the most wildlife rich of the pieces on the CD. The concluding piece is "Know" whose rich arrangement is laced with further wind and water textures and additional keyboard washes. Woodwinds and breathy vocal whispers are also found within this relaxing piece.
Colette Baron-Reid's I Am / Grace is a lovely two-CD set. The two individual portions of the project are as vastly different as are the artist's two career paths. However, like the artist's careers, the two CDs are complementary, each serving to enhance the other. Some will seek out this recording for the meditative quality of Grace and others will rush to explore the Celtic song-based quality of I Am. Both will be equally pleased. Colette Baron-Reid has delivered another album of incredible quality and tremendous depth.
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