Before getting to the music, one benefits understanding the genesis of this unusual rhythm & blues-roots album.
After writing with her brother Gabriel Evan, Maya Rae felt prepared to record their songs. A demo made its way to celebrated British Columbia-Nashville producer and all around roots wizard Steve Dawson.
So far, nothing unusual: lots of songs get written, and almost as many demos are distributed. Here’s where things go for a pleasant ramble:
Dawson, upon hearing the demo, not only expresses interest but—with only a week’s notice—invites Maya Rae to Nashville to record. Surrounded by some of the funkiest dudes Nashville offers, and ensconced within Dawson’s Henhouse Studio, Maya Rae’s stunning new album was recorded live off-the-floor in five days.
Reminding us of Edmontonian Ann Vriend’s most recent recordings, Can You See Me? is a wonderful, unexpected little roots surprise. Like Vriend, Maya Rae has the ability to make a song fair groovy while maintaining elements of roots authenticity: an Americana Carole King, perhaps.
There is mature depth to Maya Rae’s voice, lending a husky warmth to songs including “I Get By” and “Lonely Ones.” Attractive, confessional takes on youth-fueled angst and social isolation (“Sun Will Come Out Again” and “Moon Girl”) are balanced by songs that capture more of a southern, Muscle Shoals aesthetic (“Mountain Angel” and “New For Me.”) “Can You See Me?” is a radio-friendly (CKUA and free form-types) anthem, while “Freedom Fighter” explores the familiar “Black Velvet” groove.
Buoyed by Dawson (guitars) and the crack crew he assembled—Kai Welch (keyboards, trumpet), Jamie Dick (drums), and Josh Estes (bass)—Maya Rae is allowed free rein, taking her compositions to places other neophyte songwriting artists may only imagine.
Need to amplify things just a little more, vocally? Let’s have Allison Russell and JT Nero (Birds of Chicago) drop in for half the songs. Why not?! Sam Howard—who has played on favoured albums from Aiofe O’Donovan, The Wailin’ Jennys, Ruth Moody, and others—plays bass on a couple songs, and sings a little, too.
Can You See Me? Is an attractive debut, roots recording. Not only does it promise more for the future, but it serves as a tidy introduction on its own considerable merits. Well done, Maya Rae!