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Melissa Payne - High and Dry

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 29 / 7 / 2014

Melissa Payne - High and Dry
Label: Seventh Fire Records
Format: CD


Irresistable and intelligent second album of country/pop and soul from Ontario-based singer-songwriter and fiddle player, Melissa Payne

Melissa Payne, who is based in Peterborough, Ontario, plays fiddle with local band Express & Company but released her solo, self-titled debut in 2012. That passed us by for some reason, so this is the first time that Payne has been heard round these parts. A cover shot of the far from unattractive Payne driving lends the impression that here is yet another good-looking country girl trying to break free from whatever small town she felt was stifling her. There is a look of determination in those eyes though that gives the impression that Payne just might be a little different from the rest. Not being aware of her musical contribution to Express & Company and as her chosen instrument, the fiddle, isn’t exactly dominating ‘High And Dry’, the first thing that strikes the listener about this collection of nine originals is Payne’s voice. There is a huskiness that was totally unexpected and, although there’s a touch of vulnerability seeping through, at times Payne is a powerful vocalist; she has the balance between tough and tender down to an art. Those all important first impressions are that here is yet another fine singer/songwriter plowing that country/pop field resulting in a bumper crop of instantly catchy, irresistible even, intelligent adult pop songs. The title song that opens the album takes less than a minute from its quiet beginnings to burst into a sunshine-drenched sing-along that you just know is going to be rattling around inside of your head for the rest of the day. As the song progresses, it becomes more obvious that Payne has a unique voice. While the quality of the song is such that it’s hard to imagine any artist making less than a fair fist of such a strong composition, it is the way that Payne’s vocals unfold with the intensity of the song that impresses the most. The song, like the whole album, is brilliantly produced by Greg Keelor (Blue Rodeo) and James McKenty and, while Payne’s choice of musicians (who are unlisted on our copy) bring so much to the song (their playing is absolutely brilliant,) it’s that voice that you just can’t ignore. The whole album doesn’t deviate too much really from that opening track. Each song is extremely well put together, for the main part. If we must generalise, Payne never veers too far from her country/pop template, but the combination of the structure of these songs (it’s doubtful you’ll hear a more melodic set of songs this summer) coupled with musicians who obviously relate to the singer and her songs and Payne’s vocal ability to wring every last drop of emotion out of each word while making it sound so natural, so honest and real is a talent few have. ‘Bring Me Back’ is another song that builds, adding layers as it progresses, Payne again opens the song sounding slightly vulnerable, before, as the music gathers pace and power, her voice also subtly but surely changes becoming yet another remarkable performance. There are what can be only described as pretty tunes scattered throughout the album; ‘Not the Only One’ and ‘Call Me A Fool’ are just two examples of where the actual tunes are so memorable they’ll be haunting you all night long. By the end of the album impressions change howevee. While Payne is definitely on the fringes of country/pop, she is also a soul singer of some worth. ‘Downtown’ is absolutely dripping with emotion ,and it’s not the only song on ‘High And Dry’ that displays Payne’s soulful side. How many singers can convey so much emotion while still keeping some kind of composure? Payne doesn’t strain, doesn’t raise her voice, doesn’t revert to unnecessary vocal gymnastics but keeps it real. It’s a more than impressive performance not just from Payne but also from the whole band. The closing ‘Cold Out There’ is another song where Payne drops the country/pop leanings to produce a simmering slab of southern soul. By this time the listener is wondering what the hell has happened. Although for some inexplicable reason it was obvious from the cover that Payne was more than just another country/pop artist, nothing prepares you for the way her voice affects you by the close of the album. Payne and her band make it all seem so effortless while it’s obvious each and every person involved in the making of ‘High And Dry’ has poured all that they have into making it. It’s the sound of musicians playing what they feel instead of what they are told; it’s one of the most honest albums you’ll ever likely to hear. It’s not the present heat wave that’s making us melt here. It’s Melissa Payne’s vocals. Hear her now before the rest of the world catches up.

Track Listing:-
1 High and Dry
2 Not the Only One
3 Call Me a Fool
4 Bring Me Back
5 Cool West Wind
6 Kitchen Walls
7 Downtown
8 Gunning for Me
9 Cold Out There

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