There's always the danger that you, as a reviewer, can get jaded by the the hype and bullshit of the music business surrounding every "next great thing" that comes down the pipe, which sounds just like the last "great thing". In the cookie cutter world that music has become, where so much is controlled by marketing and what they think the public wants, you can easily get to the point of forgetting what it was that made you like pop music in the first place.
But then along comes someone who sings and plays their instrument with such joy and unaffected enthusiasm and sounds so genuine in what they are doing that you're reminded once again how much fun it can and should be to listen to music. They make no claims to be anything special, they haven't set out to make the world safe for Rock and Roll; they've just set out to play music to the best of their abilities.
Roxanne Potvin from the Gatineau Hills in Quebec, Canada just outside Ottawa, Ontario, Canada's capital city, is one of those rarities. Putting aside any of the press that she's starting to garner or the sobriquet of blues ingénue which is being foisted on her, you see a young player who combines a healthy exuberance and soul in ways that aren't normally heard by a member of the recent generation of musicians.
The first thing that strikes you upon listening to her second CD The Way It Feels (her first was a self released – self produced disc called Careless Loving) is that she isn't afraid to show how much she loves what she does. To hell with cool, she seems to say right from the start. "A Love That's Simple", the first track on the CD, is an up-tempo, bluesy soul number complete with horns and baritone saxophone. It rolls and rollicks along through its opening verse into the chorus where she's joined by the one of the great uninhibited blues rockers from the south – John Hiatt for a duet.
John's not her only guest on The Way It Feels. Aside from having her producer Colin Linden sitting in on every song on one of the many string instruments he plays, (who the hell aside from him and maybe Bob Brozman play both Dobro and Baritone Guitar) folk like Daniel Lanois, Bruce Cockburn, and Wayne Jackson of the Memphis Horns all make at least one appearance.
While Cockburn contributes some of his great guitar work on the electric "While I Wait For You", and Jackson plays trumpets and trombone on the three tracks, it's Lanois contribution that is most striking in some ways. "Le Merveille", which was written by Ms. Potvin is a wonderful old style French Canadian folk/country waltz. What's truly amazing is how in spite of it being surrounded on all sides by up-tempo electric music it fits in perfectly to the album.
How many musicians do you know today that can play, let alone write, a traditional style folk song and carry it off naturally? It sounds just as much part of her as does any of the other music she has written for this disc or the songs she covers. The same goes for her sitting down at the piano by herself to sing her own "Don't Pay Attention". I can just see the marketing guys "Hey she's done three slow numbers, and one of them in some foreign language – what are we supposed to do with that?"
Well, they can sit back and enjoy it for one thing. How often do you get to hear a disc that makes you want to move from the opening sounds of the horns? How often do you get a person of this age writing lyrics and music that is as sophisticated as what you'll hear on The Way It Feels? Hell, screw the "of this age", of any age these days?
Roxanne Potvin hasn't forgotten music can be enjoyable and intelligent at the same time. She doesn't make any concessions to conventional wisdom of what should and shouldn't be on a popular record; instead she writes and records music that is important to her for one reason or another. She can write about an abuse survivor in "Hurting Child" with grace and compassion and in the next moment be singing about resisting the blandishments of a man she knows won't be the best thing for her in "Caught Up" without missing a beat or sounding contrived.
Right there that makes her a cut above the rest on the basis of sincerity alone. Combine that with the fact that not only does she have a voice reminiscent of Maria Muldaur mixed with the throaty delivery of a cabaret singer, she can play a pretty mean Telecaster and that makes her all the more remarkable.
The Way If Feels was released in Canada a year ago on Alert Music and has now been re-issued in Europe and the United States on the German label Ruf Records. No matter where you live this is one disc that you should make it you business to pick up and listen to. You won't regret it.