Robyn Dell‘Unto • Meredith Shaw • Andrew Austin
The Painted Lady, Toronto Wednesday, August 22nd
Coming off the release of I’m Here Every Night, it’s clear that the opportunities to see Robyn Dell’Unto perform are not exactly regular. She plays rather sporadically to her pocket of dedicated fans – yet she is clearly destined for greatness.
Currently woodshedding her second release, Oh My Spinning Wheel, which is in mid-recording for an early ‘13 release, Dell’Unto takes advantage of these opportunities to test-drive her new music alongside the ‘old’. To call her a Little Pop Genius would be too limiting. Anyone who enjoys smart, well-written pop music – but delivered with rich production values and seasoned technique that belies her youthful age, would do well to check her out.
The 13 songs on I’m Here Every Night are ripe with fresh flavour, hook-handy and proving to be – so far – extra long-lasting in their appeal. It might be interesting to note that her music has been picked up by major TV and movie productions, making its way onto soundtracks of Degrassi, Being Erica and Disney’s Harriet The Spy.
This clearly isn’t the brand of pop that sticks with you like a bad cold and then gets flushed away. The high caliber of its composition commits it to memory over the long haul – and herein lies her key appeal.
The trick is, however, can these bouncy, well-produced and fully-orchestrated productions work on a solitary stage without a safety net? This was my question, dashed immediately with a simple soundcheck. Clearly this self-proclaimed H&M girl has something special to offer and, with the help of her sister, Jen, and an acoustic guitar, she can pull it off without all the special effects – a tribute to the quality of her sturdy originals and her uncanny talents at delivering them, minus any embellishment.
The first song, “Shake Your Shoes” – a new one – was important, as it established the essence of the young singer-songwriter’s solo style – removed from the relative isolation of a recording studio. Yet, with elfin voice and surprisingly aggressive strumming, she proved a musical force.
The two siblings soared in harmony with “It’s Not Me” (an ode to PMS) and “Hey, Caroline”, complete with convincing do-do-dos and a Pete Townshend finish. The oft-played “Astronaut” was all the better for its stripped down state, eclipsed only by new entry, “I Want To Dance”. Meredith Shaw replaced Jennifer for a Sarah McLachlan cover, “Water Is Wide” that quickly revealed plenty of vocal power from both singers. The hilarious “Teenage Dirtbag” closed the show as an encore, yet the surprising Wheatus cover took on new life as sister rejoined sister for a laugh-filled rendition – another revealing exposé.
Next up was an entirely different kind of singer, Meredith Shaw, sporting a crack 4-piece band. This girl fills a stage with her commanding presence and powerful voice, making it easy to understand the basis for Gordie Johnson’s interest, with whom she has co-written songs for her records and for his, touring with Big Sugar on occasion.
Needless to say, her musical palette is highly-charged and rock-based but the doors seem to be open in any category for a big voice with effortless control. She’s seductive, she’s hurtin’, she can holler and she can apparently hold her own with the boys. Then again, spending quite a few weeks on a tour bus with the all-male cast of Big Sugar and Wide Mouth Mason, she’d likely have to (although she’d likely be the last to blush).
“Come Back Baby” announced her claim to a power pop sound with a sturdy rock edge, aided by two strong backup singers in (main) guitarist Patrick Ballantyne and (rhythm) guitarist Kori Kameda. However, Shaw’s rock side softened into a country-esque hue with “Even If You Don’t Know Why” and “Not That Easy To Know”, written in Austin, Texas. Guest (Wide Mouth Mason) drummer, Safwan Javed and bassist Jen Benton, segued into a tight, reggae-fired “Acted Badly” followed by two of Shaw’s strongest songs in “Happy” and “Girls Who Believe”. She had barely broken a sweat and her time was up.
I’d never heard of Andrew Austin – a towering figure with a well-worn acoustic guitar and a lived-in jacket. Toronto-based and Sarnia-born, this gentle giant sheepishly started his set with a series of highly rhythmic originals, delivered with a strong voice reminiscent of Martin Sexton or John Martyn with a bit of Dave Matthews’ spirit to his presentation – each sharing the same upbeat, feel-good, jam-pop spirit that proves infectious.
Somewhat of a ‘chick magnet’, he played to his rapt audience of well-wishers, introducing a body of songs that bore his own distinctive stamp. His career began in earnest in 2006 and he has since released a solo record and an EP, the popularity of which allowed him to build a band and mount a Canada-wide tour. A sophomore release is on the way. Like Dell’Unto, Austin’s music has found some success being picked up by television and advertising interests and the promise of being included in an upcoming major film release, all of which helps pay for those bitchin’ togs.
Highlights included self-penned songs like “The Winding Wheel”, the telling “Here Comes The River” and the highly propulsive “Love Like This Again”.
One of the more surprising moments came in the form of a heartfelt cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Carey” while he closed out with 4 songs each more powerful than the last: “Message”, “It Ain’t This Town”, “Phantom Limb” and “Missile”.
He still looks like a big kid in his Dad’s jacket, but you’ll be hearing from this talented character who abuses his guitar like a demonized rocker and sports an exceptionally smooth voice, comfortable with both ends of the spectrum. He’s too big a talent to miss.
Photography: Eric Thom