January 2006

Layah Jane | with Oliver Johnson
January 23, 2006Now LoungeToronto
Her Walk Ain't Weak
by Andy Frank
...says she
“you all must be
the change you wish to see”
if I talk my speak
but my walk is weak
show me
just how to be
the change I wish to see"

This passage, from Layah Jane’s award-winning song “Reverence and Ridicule”, offers a poetic, rhythmic, and philosophical snapshot of the gifted 23-year-old singer/songwriter. She performed this and five other songs with guitarist / record-producer Oliver Johnson, at Now Lounge as the headline act for Jennifer Claveau’s Groovy Mondays open-mike series.

By paying reasonably close attention to Layah’s words and subtle body language, I conclude that she embodies the values she holds closest to her expressive heart: her love of mother earth, children, rhythms, writing, art, and her belief in fairness, personal boundaries, integrity, respect, and peaceful resolution.

Her walk ain’t weak.

Nor is anything weak about her singing. Layah Jane’s voice just keeps getting richer and fuller every time I hear her sing. Her initial hums into the microphone hushed the room as though signalling the entrance of an angel. In pin-drop silence, the audience absorbed her soothing, cadenced offerings, only daring to exhale with enthusiasm between songs.

Thought-bubbles popping up in the crowd of songwriters might have revealed reflections on her voice, (Ricky Lee Jones, Sarah McLachlan — especially one technique she uses for emphasis) her image, (Ivory Girl, breathtaking natural beauty) or her flawless guitar work. I was struck by the pure rhythms that coursed through her body and voice, and I wondered how she could morph into a Jazz, Blues or Hip Hop artist anytime she damn well pleased.

Layah Jane purred through her set, bantering playfully with the audience by giving them updates on the election returns, and soothing one patron by suggesting that singing about one’s frustration over an impending Harper government was a better option than harming the new PM. (Her kindergarten-teacher skills were put to good use.)

Despite her ‘new discovery’ status, Layah Jane is not new to the music business. She has been recording as a back up vocalist or child performer since the age of five and has appeared on Juno-award winning albums. 2005 was a dream-year for her; it included the winning of a showcase at the Ottawa Folk Festival and a CBC Galaxie Rising Star Award. "Reverence and Ridicule" won the political category in the Ontario Council of Folk Festival's songwriting competition, and the same song was nominated for an American Independent Music Award in the Folk/Singer-Songwriter category. I get the feeling she is on the cusp of getting sucked into the great big music vortex that spits out victims like olive pits, but her headstrong ways should see her through it all unscathed.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Andy Frank
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