Open-hearted singer Shaye Zadravec begets open-hearted album Now and Then

Open-hearted. It’s a brave, beautiful way to live, the realm of the young, the unsullied, the peaceful. Calgary singer Shaye Zadravec, known for lending her dazzling vocals to Tom Phillips and the DTS, wears open-heartedness like a coat of un-arms on her alluring album, Now and Then, to be released on various platforms Sept. 11, followed by CD and vinyl. It expands upon her 2018 EP, Norway, an aperitif to Now and Then’s nine-song feast.

The opening track, Jay Farrar’s French-kiss to that open-heartedness and to open roads, Windfall, is drop-dead gorgeous, so much that one Son Volt fan said with Zadravec’s touch it soars beyond the original. Producer Goran Grini, who hails from Norway (explains the name of the EP he also produced), chose that track for the album.

As Zadravec says, “I was nervous, it being a new song. A great song, but I was nervous about … being in the studio playing it with such pro musicians. I thought, ‘Oh, wow, I’m not going to be able to keep up.’ But I think that’s what kept that song fresh for me.”

Other tracks gave her comfort, which eased the nervousness of working with said pros like Russell Broom (Jann Arden), Tim Leacock (The Co-Dependents, National Dust) and Ian Tyson (Ian and Sylvia.) But that nervousness reflects passion, eagerness, and, again, open-heartedness, which braid together to produce a sweetness in her music more like sweet grass, connected to the earth, than aspartame, a fake.

“A song like The Whispering Wind, the Pat McLaughlin co-write (with Lawrence Russell Brown) is one of my earliest memories as a kid. My dad had it and it was my favourite song on the album, so I’ve been singing that song forever.”

Zadravec’s open-heartedness also led her to some found songs, like Skyway, after she decided to “make an effort in music,” take up rhythm guitar, and heed advice to “play something upbeat” even though, “There’s part of me that gets really angry, and there’s part of me that thinks, ‘OK.’

“I don’t know why it was the Replacements. I was at Heritage Music looking for new stuff to get me out of my comfort zone … I listened to the whole thing, thinking, ‘OK, I’m going to find an upbeat song. Something that I can translate into who I am and keep the energy high’ and low and behold, I picked the slowest song. But it’s such a beautiful song, especially when you hear everything else that band puts out, well, where did this song come from?”

It is, indeed, a beautiful song, more so for having passed through her vocal cords. Other songs came to Zadravec from happenstance in 2011, when Leacock introduced her to Neil MacGonigill — who worked with Ian Tyson and Jann Arden — at Schooner’s Pub while she was playing at Phillips’ open mic. The two began an ongoing dialogue about how things might be.

“I consider myself an interpreter like a Linda Ronstadt-Emmylou Harris style where I’m all about the content of the song and interpreting that in a genuine way.

“I’m a singer first and foremost and I like singing really good songs, and Neil, as most people know, he’s always searching for great songs. The partnership has worked really well that way.”

Which led to recording Tyson’s Summer’s Gone and Silver Bell, the latter to which the legend even lent his vocals when Broom drove a mini-recording studio out to Tyson’s illustrious writing venue, his stone house near Longview. It’s a heady thing, going from playing open mics to recording with the man who wrote the song Canadians once voted as this nation’s best song of all time (Four Strong Winds.)

In fact, a decade ago at the Ironwood open mic night after discovering live music was a thing, she was singing an a capella version of a Patsy Cline hit when the Juno Award-winning host, Kit Johnson, came striding towards the stage. Zadravec thought she’d done something wrong, or there was technical trouble. Nope.

“He picked up a guitar and started … playing the chords to She’s Got You. I think that was kind of a big moment, for me realizing that people would want to play music with me, and that it was possible.

“I’ve gone back to the Ironwood open mic pretty faithfully almost every Wednesday since then and that was in 2011.”

Now and Then will be available on various platforms as of September 11. Hard copies of the album will follow.

Mary-Lynn Wardle is a Bragg Creek writer.