By Jon Thompson, tbnewswatch.com
When you’re living in Atikokan and you want to make it playing the blues, you have to belt it out louder.
Sunday Wilde was already middle aged when dreams of taking the stage led her to begin tinkering with the piano in 2010. Her next half-decade was a creative explosion as she produced five albums in as many years and she’s set to release a sixth installment.
“I felt like there’s a reason I started later in life,” Wilde said.
“I’m 47 now. There’s a reason the music and singing came into my life and it just felt like I had to have people listening to the music so, how am I going to do that?”
Even playing a show is a tremendous effort for a singer and pianist living in a town of less than 3,000 people, located over two hours driving from Thunder Bay. To make her voice heard, Wilde dug into the commercial blues machine to research radio stations, newsletters and awards.
Within only a few years, she was bringing those awards home. Her records started to chart on jazz, blues and Internet radio stations that celebrated her independence, femininity, and fully acoustic resolve.
“I’m certainly growing as a piano player. I’m getting more proficient and more comfortable,” she said.
“Years ago, I could hit a couple of notes and made a lot of mistakes but I was growing and learning as we all do. I did want to keep it acoustic. There’s a lot of electric blues, depending on what you’re into and I wanted to have an old sound from the old stuff.”
Wilde coupled her dedication to outreach with a commitment to travelling and performing, which wound her socially and musically to the tight-knit scene of blues pockets across North America.
Her raw voice caught the ear of Grammy-nominated producer Gary Vincent, best known for recording actor Morgan Freeman’s voiceover work in his Clarksdale, Mississippi studio.
The character of Wilde’s original songs matured when she began putting her own stamp on some timeless covers like Ruth Brown’s Daddy Daddy and a haunting rewritten version of Willie Dixon’s John the Conquer Root. Her insistence on keeping the sessions acoustic challenged Vincent’s imagination to draw together a web of musicians that would fit the sessions’ vision.
Vincent hauled a church pump organ built in 1857 into the studio and contracted Grammy-winning Billy Earheart of the Amazing Rhythm Aces to give Wilde’s songs a whirl.
Fresh off her 2015 Emissaries of Memphis Music Peoples Choice Award, Mandy Lemons and her husband Sturgis Nikides joins the fray on backup vocals and dobro guitar, respectively. Chicago-based trumpeter Roger Rupert drops the album’s accents and melodies while rockabilly favourites April Mae and Dave “Catfish” Fecca weigh in on washboard and guitar.
Blues rebel Watermelon Slim flicks witty backup vocals from the peanut gallery on That Man Drives Me Mad. The rhythm is held down with a stand up bass, wielded by Wilde’s partner and long-time Toronto music scene fixture Reno Jack.
“I thought, ‘I can’t believe this is happening to me,’” Wilde said.
“One person of any notoriety hears you and they think maybe we can do this or that. Then it’s just like dominoes.
“I don’t deserve an album that’s so great.”
The result is Blueberries and Grits, a classic blues album recorded clean and clear as water the listener can hear all the way through to the bottom.
Wilde’s cynically romantic lyrics skip and tear across the surface of its complexly layered arrangements, as her voice ranges from a longing wince to a gravelly command of fervent emotion.
“Some get really polished and the soul has dissipated through being so polished. I like the rawness of it,” she said.
“It has to do with the emotions as they are, raw in these songs. Some are tired, some are sultry, some are full of irritation. All of those come with rawness too.”
Blueberries and Grits will be released on July 15. It’s now available for pre-sale.