Review – “Both the One & the Other” – Isla Craig

islareviewed by Elena Gritzan

You might know Isla Craig as one half of smooth-jam outfit OG Melody, but with the release of a solo tape, her second release under her own name, she proves that her R&B soul style works well when pulled away from the beats and put in with some haunting melodies and truly excellent songwriting.

Isla Craig’s Both the One & the Other is a double-sided demonstration of the Toronto vocalist’s original presence and creative arrangements. The first side of the recording features support from four very talented singers, each quite well-known to active participants in the Toronto music scene: Daniela Gesundheit, Tamara Lindeman, Ivy Mairi, and Felicity Williams. They contribute backing vocals and harmonies that make up the backbone of the album (other than some sparse piano chords mimicking the vocal progressions, they are the only element present to prop up Craig’s centre-stage lyrical delivery).

There is a great deal of intimacy; it feels like the five of them could be sitting in your living room, sharing observations about life over a cup of tea. The first side is bookended by two songs offering encouraging stay-true-to-yourself advice: “Follow Your Heart” and musings on the power of staying in the moment on “Messages”. What comes in between are thoughts on living in the city, what happens when people change, and Canadian winters.

By the second half of the six-song set, the piano has disappeared, leaving the songs a cappella. The simplicity in the instrumentation pays off in the increased ability to focus on the aching beauty of the melodies.

Side B adds a layer of context, presenting (mostly) the same songs in a different format, with Craig singing by herself and using a loop pedal to create the layers of harmonies that make up the foundation of the songs. I say context because this is how the songs were originally written, with Craig experimenting on her own. Besides the re-interpreted Side A material, there is a rendition of “Flesh Failures/Let the Sunshine In”, a cover from the musical Hair.

Hearing each of the tracks in two environments, minimalistic with one voice and full with many, and having them work well in both, reveals Craig’s strength as a songwriter. She is a huge part of our city’s musical landscape, and it is about time that we recognize that.

Top Tracks: “Played in the Cards”, “Messages”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really good)

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