photo by dustin rabin/courtesy emi music
Releasing an album of mostly covers as a major label debut may seem odd, even daring, to some. But to singer/songwriter Serena Ryder, it felt perfectly natural.
In truth, the correlation didn’t actually occur to her because she had already finished the record, titled If Your Memory Serves You Well, before signing with EMI.
"This was a project I really wanted to do for myself," admits the 24-year-old songstress who was discovered by pop/rock icon Hawksley Workman. "It was a natural thing for me to do because this is how I began performing music (at seven years old)."
Sung in her three-octave powerhouse of a voice, Ryder undertakes these 12 vintage Canadian songs — some dating back as far as 1910 — with such conviction it’s hard to imagine them as anything but her own. For instance, Good Morning Sunshine, Galt MacDermott’s anthem from the 1967 musical Hair, is transformed into a whimsical, jingly interpretation. While This Wheel’s On Fire, co-written by The Band singer-bassist Rick Danko and Bob Dylan, is a spirited, bluesy ballad (where the album borrows its name from).
The Millbrook, Ont., native (now a Toronto resident) also finds herself in good company on her own Out of the Blue, a catchy love song she co-wrote with legendary rocker Randy Bachman.
"(This project) really influenced my own songwriting and set the bar really high for me," explains Ryder. "It’s just been a huge inspiration for me to go through these songs ... and learn about the songwriting process."
Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame founder Frank Davies, who "this album wouldn’t have happened without," worked with Ryder to narrow down a list of 500 potential songs.
"Older music has always really spoken to me from a very old place, and my voice has always just found its home there," says Ryder, who’s often been referred to as an "old soul" with comparisons to Ella Fitzgerald, Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin.
With a musical style that straddles so many genres — blues, country, folk, rock and world beats — Ryder finds it overwhelming to choose a kind of music to play.
"I’m fine with classifications … but I’ve decided not to choose a kind of music to play. I’ve chosen just to play what I feel."