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Emilia Dahlin Sextet capture magic on live CD ‘…Green Things to Grow’

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Emilia Dahlin Sextet capture magic on live CD ‘…Green Things to Grow’ (photo by Laryn Hottinger)

The purity of singer Emilia Dahlin’s voice, combined with the poetry of her lyricism, draws you in to fully appreciate everything happening around them on her sextet’s new CD, titled “…Green Things to Grow,” the Portland-based musician’s first release in more than a decade. The ambitious project was recorded live during a one-night only community event held on Portland’s Fore River in October 2018.

Dahlin and her sextet plan to celebrate the release of the album with two live performances on Saturday, January 18, at Portland’s Space Gallery.

Dahlin says she wanted a change for her fifth release – a break away from the predictable pattern of hunkering down in a recording in a studio for an extended period, followed by a CD release and then a tour. It’s the standard route taken by most recording musicians and performers but Dahlin decided to record an album of all new material in front of an audience.

“I like studios for the time it allows you to push the envelope of a song, but my real interest is in live performance,” Dahlin said during an interview. “I think there is a magic and energy about doing things onstage and having an exchange with the audience. For me that’s where the joy is.”

Dahlin says she considered using a number of potential Portland music venues but says she had a vision of a big room in an industrial space. A friend offered use of his warehouse on the Fore River and allowed Dahlin and her crew to transform it into a magical one-night only pop-up concert venue, complete with a catered meal, candlelight tables and art.

Artist Clint Fulkerson created a piece that Dahlin and her band used as the centerpiece of their stage.

The catered meal was Middle Eastern, and crafted by a mother of eight, originally from Iraq, who had befriended Dahlin through a local group called Sister Makings, which partners new Mainers – mostly from the Middle East – with local women to build new friendships and share cultural specialties.

“It really set the tone for the evening to have people sit down and talk and eat together before a show,” Dahlin said.

After breaking bread with the audience, Dahlin and her fellow musicians Adam Frederick on bass, Seth Kearns on drums and Max Cantlin on guitar, were joined for the first time by Kate Beever on vibes and percussion, and Sorcha Cribben-Merril on guitar and vocal harmony. Dahlin and the musicians deliver her bewitching new songs with apparent effortlessness and maximum confidence.

For most musicians, the success of a live performance hinges on the material at hand, and Dahlin’s songs more than rise to that challenge on the new record.

Each of the 12 new compositions on “…Green Things to Grow” has a distinct mood and feel that mirror Dahlin’s experiences both as a nationally touring artist, and as a mother. They deal with a variety of subjects, including gratitude, overcoming fear and the intricacies of love.

The tone for the record is set on the opening metaphorical title song: “Well she always liked to garden as the sun was going down. Get down on hands and knees and feel around. You can find her ‘mongst the sugar babies, juice drippin’ down her chin. Smiling with her knees dirty as sin,” Dahlin sings, as her dynamic band lays down a mesmerizing backing.

Take a dash of k.d. lang, a pinch of Imelda May, a touch of Gillian Welch and Alison Krause and a heaping portion of originality, and you may get an idea of what Dahlin’s new album sounds like, but you’d be much better off actually listening to it. You can see the performance that became the record’s stunning closer, “Blue Balloon,” now on Dahlin’s YouTube channel.

Dahlin is not quite sure how to describe her new music but says that most of the songs on “…Green Things to Grow” arrived recently.

“Most of these songs were written in the last four or five years,” she said. “I used to focus more on vocal acrobatics and pushing the envelope but I put a lot of effort into crafting these lyrics.”

After releasing her 2009 album “Rattle Them Bones,” Dahlin says she was ready for a new phase. She had been touring the United States, mostly by herself, for more than a decade. “I needed to change because I was getting pretty burned out,” she says.

Dahlin says she stepped back to breathe, to be a mother and to be a teaching artist in a variety of situations in local public and private schools. A member of the teaching artist roster for the Maine Arts Commission, she has inspired hundreds of students to create their own songs. Through a partnership with Maine Academy of Modern Music and Ocean Ave. Elementary School in Portland, Dahlin has helped students co-create more than 120 songs using a variety of songwriting techniques to spark their imaginations in the classroom.

“It’s been a wonderful collaboration,” Dahlin said of her work with Maine students. “I think the role of a teaching artist is a real unique one. I wish more artists and schools would take advantage of opportunities like this.”

“…Green Things to Grow” is my first favorite record of 2020. It’s like a container garden with 12 individual pots, each growing a different ingredient for a meal. It’s available at Bull Moose stores, iTunes and Amazon Music.

(Dahlin and her sextet will perform the record this Saturday during a 3:30 p.m. matinee concert and a longer evening show scheduled for 7:30 p.m., at Space Gallery, 538 Congress St. in Portland. Tickets are available at www.Space538.org.)

Last modified on Wednesday, 15 January 2020 09:06

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