BARRHEAD & WESTLOCK - A young musician from Vancouver, touring her first-ever original album, is the next performer in two major concert series in the area: Westlock's CATS Series March 6 and the Barrhead Concert Series the next day, March 7.
Maya Rae, the youngest to cross both the CATS Theatre stage and the one at Barrhead Composite High School this season, is in the midst of a transition from her jazz roots where she had her start to a different kind of sound, more personal and self-made.
“I got into the jazz scene here in Vancouver, I was about 12, and then I recorded my first record … I released that when I was 14.”
It’s called Sapphire Birds, and on it you can hear her rendition of "Dream a Little Dream of Me," a liminal sound where the softness of a pre-teen's voice meddles with the power that, to Rae, is almost innate and without which the song can’t fully function.
“Since then, I’ve kind of been gigging a bunch, mostly in Canada, a lot in the jazz scene, which has been awesome, everyone’s been really receptive.”
Rae took a step recently, which she’s hesitant to call ‘away from jazz.’ In truth, she’s not moving away from her musician roots, she’s aiming toward a musical future that belongs to her. Granted, she’s also at a time when she’s crossing borders into adulthood, the legislated border – the 17 to 18-years-old threshold.
“The past couple of years, I started to write my own music. I wouldn’t call it jazz exactly, it’s more like singer-songwriter folk with jazz influences.”
That’s the sound of the album that will be coming out in late spring, closer to April, called Can you see me?, which she recorded in Nashville in less than a week.
When artists go in the singer-songwriter direction, you’ll often hear them invoke the name of Joni Mitchell. She sounded like what everyone imagines a bird would if it knew English when she sang about how she drew a map of Canada on the back of a cartoon coaster in the blue TV screen light.
Later, Mitchell moved on to a jazzier sound, re-recorded “A case of you” too, this time with the deeper voice of a long-time cigarette smoker.
It’s only natural Rae would call her an inspiration, everybody does, writers and musicians. She adds Carole King to the list, Gregory Porter – he leans towards the blues and gospel too. In sound, that’s fair, but what happens to the subject matter, what does it look like for an almost-18-year-old?
“I was really inspired the past couple of years, being a teenager, there’s a lot of things to write about. I just started writing a whole bunch of songs with my brother, actually … The record is actually both of us as writers.”
He’ll give her a poem, she’ll sit down at the piano or with a guitar and “whatever comes out, comes out.” It’s an easy partnership.
Can you see me? is produced by Steve Dawson, an ex-Vancouverite who now lives in Nashville – that’s why Rae recorded south of the border with the man who has a couple of Junos to his name for jazz and roots albums.
He liked the raw demos Rae sent, and a week later they were in the studio, recording what is now her first original album.
“I’m still playing a lot of jazz shows,” she says, but the originals are, naturally, coming forward a little more prominently in her repertoire. That’s the expectation she set forth for her Alberta tour as well: there’s some light jazz, some songs off the new album, and some brand new music she hopes will make it onto future records.
Joining Rae for her performance in Westlock will be Miles Black, Scott Smith, and bassist Mike Lent.