What does it mean to be an Ambre McLean fan?
The answer to that question begins the moment you hear her sing. It’s something you earn a deeper understanding of as you absorb her songs, or perhaps more accurately – as they absorb you. “Soul” is a word that means different things to different people… Some things need to be felt rather than summed up with words. Some things are better understood by that shiver down your spine, that smile on your face, or that tear that sneaks down your cheek. Whatever soul means to you, experiencing the music of Ambre McLean, may just leave you with a new definition.
A veteran of the Canadian music scene, with her genre defying style and indie approach, McLean has carved her own path along the way. After years of performing with bands Kyn, and Sharon Said, Ambre released her debut solo EP “Just Passing Through” in 2004, showcasing her ever-evolving craft. Since then Ambre has released 3 studio album’s, garnered numerous accolades and has appeared regularly on the Canadian music festival circuit. Currently touring in support of her brand new album “Me”, McLean is truly one of Canada’s rising stars. She has been called “Canada’s best kept secret”. With songs that will stick with you, and a voice bound to haunt you, this is one secret you’ll want to be in on.
“She must have been born to it. Ambre is a brilliant player, a brilliant songwriter and a brilliant performer.”
(Craig Norris, CBC)
“McLean’s voice – is an instrument itself: gorgeous, sometimes with a rich, bluesy feel, other times a sweet mellow sound, alternatively soft and ferocious, always carrying these tunes straight to your musical heart.”
(David Yazbeck, NXEW.ca)
“Seeing Ambre live is what live music should be like – Spontaneous Combustion… This is the new sound of Canada rising, soulful, thoughtful, and reflective.”
“I find her voice fantastically expressive.”
VIDEO (“Jumpstart” live version)
REVIEW OF “MURDER AT THE SMOKEHOUSE” by David Yazbeck of nxew.ca ( http://nxew.ca/?p=5348 )
Ambre McLean defies categorization, and this is good. It may be hard to file Murder at the Smokehouse, but that’s precisely the point: this is music to be listened to, and better yet live. Don’t bother naming it – just enjoy.
McLean’s sound is intricate and ambitious. All the parts on the record were performed by her, with the guitar and vocal tracks being recorded in one take, off the floor. That’s impressive: as the guitar and McLean’s voice are the highlights here – two constants in a fine set of songs. The guitar playing is great – subtle and textured, generally understated but loud when necessary, mild distortion here and there, strong strumming like a train when necessary, subtle picking like a mild rain when necessary. The other constant – McLean’s voice – is an intrument itself: gorgeous, sometimes with a rich, bluesy feel, other times a sweet mellow sound, alternatively soft and ferocious, always carrying these tunes straight to your musical heart.
Title track opener, Murder at the Smokehouse, is a traditional roots rocker that features distorted guitar, a train like beat and many other sounds to propel the rhythm. But McLean shifts gears midway through to change the mood with slow walking sounds, a chain, and a whistle, then the guitar kicks back in with McLean expressing all the angst of someone who might become the victim of revenge. McLean returns to a rootsy approach on the last track, Got to Get by, which also features slow guitar and harmonica.
The style shifts dramatically after the first track with Why?, which features upbeat guitar strumming and a pretty plea for answers about a relationship failing. On this track McLean’s voice reminds me a bit of Brandy Carlisle, with the guitar style reminscent of Billy Braggs’ guitar/vocal only experiments. The same feeling is evident on Fast Feet which picks up the pace to make a good old rock and roll love song.
Other tracks feature a more bluesy sound, but none of these songs is pure blues. Bottom of the Well, while bluesy, reminds me of some of the sad laments of Patsy Cline, Not Myself is more soul than blues, with vocals changing from the subtle to high notes and a waltz like beat, and also features the melodica. Cheapshot is the rockiest, and bluesiest, track here, featuring distorted electric guitar, a traditional blues refrain plus a great rhythm with a strong drumbeat and claps. This song is fantastic, and invokes old Zeppelin takes on guitar blues.
McLean is not averse to experimenting. Tricky Truth features accordion, plus low vocal bass sounds for rhythm and many overlapping voices. It approaches an electronic hip hop song. An interesting track, but not as moving as the balance of the record. McLean is at her best when she focuses on the guitar and voice, and she has enough musical chops in her arsenal to use those to excellent effect.
Wait and See Love is definitely a standout track here – mellower, nice guitar picking, pretty melody and lyrics. This is a lovely song about hope in a relationship: “We can be, love, anything, love, with trust and kindness we’ll be fine…” A fantastic showcase to McLean’s voice. That strong vocal is also apparent on the Macy Gray-esqueWhen Is That Day Gonna Come? This track features subtle electric guitar but also intoduces keyboards, all bound up in a nice soul package.
For those of you who have seen Ambre McLean perform, this is not surprising. Her stage presence can be mesmerizing with all the various sounds being looped in over time to form a cohesive song. There’s danger in that approach: the artist risks becoming a gimmick, like the one person band street performer. But there is no gimmick here: whatever technology McLean uses to put the sounds into each song, the music never gets lost. “Murder at the Smokehouse – a musical novella”, can’t possibly capture the intensity and interest of McLean’s live work. But with its from the floor recording approach, and skilful changes in sound and texture, the record captures the essence of her musical spirit – that of an independent singer/songwriter who does a great job of exploring the edges of the ‘genre’ taking on blues, rock, jazz, rap, soul and more. Well worth checking out.