Laila Biali – Out of Dust
(ACT 9050-2. CD review by Adam Sieff)
I first became aware of the Canadian singer/pianist Laila Biali over a decade ago thanks to her version of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Woodstock’. It was a terrific performance that swept majestically along with a soaring vocal that completely floored me (it sounds just as good today). If you’re not familiar with the artist, she’s a classically trained pianist, touring musician with Paula Cole, Sting and Chris Botti, a member of the rather wonderful Rose and The Nightingale, a jazz radio DJ, a self-releasing album artist and the winner of the Best Jazz Vocal category at the 1999 Juno Awards for her eponymous album.
Over the last few years she has had some personal issues to contend with, not least a nasty and debilitating illness brought on by the mould hidden behind the walls of her home studio. Hence her new album’s title ‘Out of Dust’, and an opportunity to move forward with a positive outlook.
That positivity is highly apparent in the opening song, ‘The Revival’, a funky uptempo anthem about rising up out of difficulty that gets the album off to an uplifting start. (The verse melody and feel does closely recall Chic’s ‘Le Freak’, but I always liked that song). The second track, ‘The Monolith’, is a much more interesting proposition, a densely layered arrangement powered by a hypnotic rolling drum groove courtesy of co-producer/drummer (and husband) Ben Wittman. This gives Ms Biali far more to work with and her voice really shines.
The tracks keep coming, I liked the vocal harmonies in ‘Glass House’ and a fine soprano saxophone solo from Godwin Louis, the powerful ‘Wendy’s Song’ which starts like a Marc Cohn track before the big production takes over. ‘Sugar’ starts promisingly with beats, then gets clever and drops the ball. But ‘Alfa Waves’ has a gorgeous melody, while the very pretty co-write ‘Au Pays De Cocagne’ and a strong cover of Gregory Porter’s ‘Take Me To The Alley’ featuring a great John Ellis tenor saxophone solo work really well. ‘The Baker’s Daughter’ and ‘Broken Vessels’ feature strong solos from Remy Le Boeuf on alto and Godwin Louis on soprano saxophones respectively.
But it’s the album’s final song, ’Take The Day Off’, written with her son Joshua, that almost steals the show as the album’s best moment with Ms Biali playing steel tongue drum in a stripped-down arrangement. A perfect example of less is more.
This is a big-sounding album, well produced by Laila Biali and Ben Wittman with great mixes by Tim Abraham. Everyone delivers, from the core musicians and soloists to the backing vocalists and string players. I’d enjoy to see some of this performed live and maybe I’m lucky she’ll even play ‘Woodstock’ again.
Categories: CD review