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Jessica Rhaye

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Canada

Jessica Rhaye Main.jpg

With the release of Sunshine Baby, Jessica Rhaye’s second album with The Ramshackle Parade, the New Brunswick-based singer/songwriter expands her reach as a lyricist and vocalist with a set of alternately personal and observational songs that manage to be incredibly intimate and cinematic in scope simultaneously.

On Sunshine Baby, Rhaye illuminates the darker corners of her world with a compelling, if sometimes somber, sound. A treatment driven as much by the stellar contributions of The Ramshackle Parade and liberal application of lush strings, as by Rhaye’s substantial vocal chops and her uncanny ability as a lyricist to invite listeners to find their own lives, loves, and heartaches reflected in her words.

On this, the follow-up to Rhaye and The Ramshackle Parade’s critically acclaimed 2019 album Just Like a Woman - Songs of Bob Dylan, which generated millions of views on YouTube, Rhaye deals with darker themes than on previous records while relying on new sounds and inspirations ranging from indie rock to jazz, but without ever abandoning her folk roots.

While track ‘Snakes and Ladders’ hints at the one-step-forward-two-step-back nature of the music industry, she never loses sight of the possibilities for redemption and hope.

Nowhere is that clearer than on lead single, ‘Sunshine Baby’. Co-written by Rhaye and band members Bill Preeper and Sandy MacKay, it offers a balm to those experiencing struggle and doubt. “It’s about being there for and encouraging anyone who’s going through a difficult time,” Rhaye says, “sharing some light with them, being their sunshine, and helping them overcome whatever’s bringing them down.”

Directly inspired by the book How to Write One Song by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, on ‘Sunshine Baby’ Rhaye took a step outside her comfort zone by playing piano. “I have no piano training, but I just started playing a couple of pulsing chords, and the song came to me very quickly.”

That hopeful theme is something she carries through on the follow-up single, ‘Come a Little Closer’ (co-written with Brent Mason), a fun, country-tinged love song about letting the world go by and taking solace where you can that finds Rhaye channeling her East Coast musical roots with a bit of a Sixpence None the Richer’s ‘Kiss Me’ vibe haunting the edges.

Although Rhaye is known for a sound that seamlessly incorporates folk, adult contemporary, and Americana styles, if listeners expect a stripped-down, acoustic-focused album, they’re in for a surprise. The farther you get into Sunshine Baby, the more it seems to play out like a series of short films, vignettes full of vivid instrumental colours, gooseflesh-raising moments of vocal power, and, at times, heartbreaking intimacy.

“I wanted to do something completely different,” Rhaye explains. “As far as the writing went, I really dug deep. When I get into songwriting mode I go a little crazy, writing and researching; the house is neglected, my children get a little neglected. I’m a graphic designer, too, and, as a designer, it’s the same kind of process.”

That process of losing herself in the music, the lyrics, and the intent of a song, while frustrating at times, has rewards, professionally as much as personally. Rhaye’s past albums have garnered nominations for the Canadian Folk, Music New Brunswick, and East Coast Music Awards, and have landed placements in television series, including CMT’s Unstable and CBC’s Heartland. As a two-time finalist in the Canada Music Week National Songwriting competition and finalist in the folk category of the prestigious John Lennon Songwriting Contest, Rhaye has also gained acclaim as a uniquely talented songwriter. Over time she’s also co-written with a variety of well-known Canadian tunesmiths, including Royal Wood, Ken Tobias, and Ron Sexsmith, and has performed widely, appearing at premier venues like the National Arts Centre and Hugh’s Room and at events such as the Stan Rogers and Mariposa Folk Festivals, among many others.

Additionally, as a graphic artist, Rhaye has been honoured with an ECMA for Graphic Artist of the Year and Music NB’s Visual Artist of the Year for her work on both her own musical projects and for collaborations with other artists, including Christina Martin, Tomato/Tomato, Rachel Beck, and Matt Andersen.

By going deep into the shadows, Rhaye was able to bring back new stories for Sunshine Baby that offer solace even while illuminating sorrow. It’s a truly remarkable record, beautiful, powerful, and, as importantly, one on which Rhaye’s reaching out to embrace a more expansive lyrical and musical universe that will undoubtedly fuel her music in the future.

At times, she says, the process was exhausting: “So much time, energy, thought, and care went into this. Trying to navigate our families and work schedules and booking multiple recording sessions in two different provinces. That’s a challenge in itself. Throw in a pandemic, restrictions, and health issues, and it’s a big pot of crazy. But it was so worth it. When I listen to the record now, I forget about the stress and just feel so satisfied knowing the songs reached their full potential and life.”

That’s evident on every track on Sunshine Baby, from her playful intro song, ‘Sally’ to the album’s closer, ‘Reaching Out to You’ – a decidedly personal track and a perfect coda that leaves the listener with a sense of having just woken from a dream, or emerging from a period of challenge and struggle into a new, if uncertain, reality.

The collaboration with The Ramshackle Parade was critical to that outcome, Rhaye says, crediting Preeper, MacKay, guitarist Chris Braydon, drummers Clinton Charlton and Jordi Comstock, and producer/engineer Dale Murray for taking her music to a new level. “I love the big sound we created for the Just Like A Woman live performances, and we wanted our new recordings for Sunshine Baby to have that same energy, but we also wanted the sound to be “bigger and more layered,” she says, adding, “I had written about darkness, and I wasn’t afraid to confront it; to walk away from safety and light a fire.”

Job done and then some - scheduled for release on Scout Music in May 2023, the result is a beautiful and powerful album - one that, while it explores elements of danger and darkness, telegraphs the joy and depth of connection Jessica Rhaye and The Ramshackle Parade have found in working together in equal measure. “We poured our hearts into these songs, lyrically and musically,” Rhaye concludes. “We all shared the same desire to make Sunshine Baby the best it could be, and I can’t wait for people to hear this album. I want everyone who hears it to feel the same energy we put into making it.”

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