Album review: MAYA RAE – Can You See Me?

MAYA RAE - Can You See Me?

Black Hen Music [Release date 24.04.20]

It’s perhaps not the smartest PR move in the book to compare the debut album (of sorts) – by an artist not yet 18 – to timeless classics such as Joni Mitchell’s Blue, and Tracy Chapman’s self-titled debut.  Sure, it catches the attention but it raises expectations to, perhaps, unrealistic levels.

Her first album of original material – Rae has been singing professionally since the age of 12, recorded her first album of jazz and classic pop standards at 13, and has gone on to sing with some of the biggest names in Canadian jazz.

Can You See Me? is a collection of songs written with her brother Gabriel, and inspired by classic singers like Carole King and Nina Simone, iconic performers such as The Beatles and Joni Mitchell, and modern days artists like Ed Sheeran and Adele.

Recorded in Nashville (where else?) and produced by Steve Dawson (who also plays guitars), the album features some of the finest players in town including Kai Welch (keyboards /trumpet), Jamie Dick (drums), and John Estes (bass), as well as JT Nero and Allison Russel on supporting vocals.

The first thing that strikes you is just how far up in the mix Rae’s vocals are, making the album feel like she’s stood in the room next to you, and making her performance the central focus.  And on a sonic level Can You See Me? ticks all the boxes – it sounds great – Rae’s vocals are ‘on the money’ and mature beyond her years and the playing sublime.

Song writing wise it doesn’t sound like a young person’s album, opening with several [light] adult orientated pop ‘tunes’ – notably the title track – before developing into more of a classy ‘late night’ affair, with ‘New For Me’ adding a nice bluesy/soul twist, the wistful trumpet infused ‘Storm Leaf’ a mournful highlight, and ‘Freedom Fighter’ and ‘Lonely Ones’ simply oozing ‘class’.

It’s eminently listenable, and signals an emerging talent, but ‘a timeless classic’?  No, the songwriting simply isn’t consistently memorable enough.   But expect to hear more from Maya Rae.  ***1/2

Review by Pete Whalley

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