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Album Review

ALI MILNER
I Dare You

Bob Segarini sat right in front of Ali Milner when she was playing an IndieCan event one evening and was wowed so much that he printed this in his September 18, 2009 column, Don't Believe a Word I Say:

If you read Wednesday’s column, you know how knocked out I am about this young singer/songwriter from Whistler B.C. She is not a product of a phalanx of writers, producers, managers, label heads, choreographers, and assorted advisors. She is the product of a tight knit family, a love of music, natural talent nurtured and refined by hard work, discipline, and an extraordinary sense of taste and self for someone just recently able to graduate from Shirley Temples to Brandy Alexanders.

Far from naïfs, Ali and her mother, (who acts as her manager as far as I can tell), seem as relaxed dealing with the business of show as most mothers and daughters are having lunch together while trying to decide whether to keep shopping or go to a movie. Watching them interact with music industry types as well as other artists when they dropped into the TIFF Canadian Music Café showcases this week was refreshing as hell. No attitude, self aggrandizing or nervous self promotion. Just questions and genuine interest in the people they spoke with and what they had to say. Our Fail of The Week would do well to learn some manners from these two.

Manners are something, to be sure, but what moves Milner to the front of the line is everything musical. Milner somehow manages to slip right past Joss Stone's foray into early 60s soul to late fifties and early sixties rock and vocal jazz and does it with ease. I Dare You showcases a singer/songwriter with voice, composure and songwriting skills way beyond her years and phrasing which, as amazing as it is, is bound to only get better with time. Pile on immaculate production by one Don McLeod, who puts his finger on the pulse of Milner's musical heartbeat, and you have a winner. An award winner, to my ears. I'm serious.

Her voice a mixture of the aforementioned Ms. Stone, Dinah Washington and Teresa Brewer (on her more serious tunes) and a host of other great vocalists, Milner lays out thirteen reasons why she can't miss. Stone, in fact, could pretty much pull off a decent version of the soulful lead-off track Crystal Clear* with the right backing. After hearing Milner, though, I am convinced there is no need. The arrangement gives a bit of a pop/soul/jazz flair to the song which complements the vocal nicely and maybe it is more a step toward commercial compared to the other songs on the album, but it is bare hint to what follows. I Lost My Diamond harbors a breath of Sam Cooke, rides a rhythmic piano riff echoing Pat Boone's Moody River and has a chorus straight out of something in which Burt Bacharach may have played a role. A modified calypso beat fuels Break Away, a song perfect for the chalypso, a dance fairly popular during the early sixties--- a simplified cha-cha for dancers who couldn't really dance. Day By Day stops just short of a stage number and one can imagine Milner strutting the stage with top hat and umbrella, though that may be overdoing it. Standing up for herself, Milner pleads self-preservation among other things on Can't Change This Girl, a lament possibly that one she loves would even want her to change. It is mournful, true, but in love, there has to be a limit.

We all have a turning point in how we feel about an album. Mostly it's the hit or just a song that stands seemingly head and shoulders above the rest. For myself, it was I Can't Wait Forever (Live). A melodic waltz-like shuffle through love supported by sparse production and simple electric piano, it tosses aside the full arrangements (more on that in a moment) given the album's other songs. There is another, though, which has since overshadowed all. The title track, I Dare You, mirrors the days of Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington when they sang (and sang beautifully) the pop ballads of their day and is so good it makes you want to cry (no, it's not sad, really, just that good). When it begins, the aura of Lenny Welch's Since I Fell For You and Dinah Washington's What a Difference a Day Makes sweeps me away and makes me realize that songs like this (and presented like this) are incredibly rare, indeed. It is music magnificence and nothing less.

All of the above are reasons to buy I Dare You, but I give you one more: production. When songs have a feel, the best way to magnify that feel is to arrange and produce them correctly. Don McLeod has to know that because every button he touched, every string he added or subtracted, every note in the end looks back to the song. His production values embrace all that was good during the fifties and sixties when this genre held its own against that upstart Rock & Roll--- keep it simple, keep it flowing, make the voice the focus. The fact that nothing gets in the way of Milner's voice--- which I did say was superb, did I not?--- is tribute to his skills.

As regards Bob Segarini, what can I say? He's turned me on to more great music in the past year than any one person. Like myself, he believes in the music and avoids the hype. We share enthusiasm for a number of bands including his own (Roxy, The Wackers, Segarini and The Dudes) like The Research Turtles and Tim Chaisson and Morning Fold and we each struggle with the changing face of music in this modern tech-oriented world. If you've read this far, I might suggest a visit to the site which houses his column. He is erudite (wise, for the dictionary-disabled), witty and always entertaining. And he finds the musical gems hidden beneath the rubble left my a music industry in distress. Like Ali Milner.

Oh, that 'Fail of the Week mentioned in the quote from Segarini's column? You can read about that here. You're welcome.

* Produced by Sean Hosein, Dane DeViller, Anthony Anderson and Steve Smith for Shred Records.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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