Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Sinfully Good: Andrea England's Hope & Other Sins

When I was a young guy, hopeful about breaking into the singer/songwriter market I wanted to call my first record Love and Other Delights.  It seemed to capture the essence of what my songs were about. Andrea England has topped that by choosing Hope & Other Sins as the title for her new release. It’s definitely more thought-provoking, and when combined with A Man Called Wrycraft’s startling and gorgeous cover art it sets an expectation for England’s third CD to dig far deeper into the listener’s subconscious and really tug at your heart and head. The production, by Blackie & the Rodeo Kings’ Colin Linden, helps fulfil those expectations.

Andrea England hails from Nova Scotia, but is now based in Toronto. She’s a prize-winning songwriter, having gathered a prize in the John Lennon USA International Songwriting Competition, among others. Her songs have been played in TV series (Dawson’s Creek and Party of Five) and feature films. Her first album Lemonade received three Nova Scotia Music Award nominations and won the Pop Rock Award at the Toronto Independent Music Awards in 2005. Way back in 1999, she was delivering her CDs to a local record shop in Ottawa when she was involved in a serious car accident. It brought her career to a sudden stop, but not her creativity. She has almost 150 compositions in her songbook, and has collaborated with people like Dan Hill, Suzie Vinnick and a host of professionals including Bruce Brody (Rickie Lee Jones) and Bryan Allen (Heart). 

Andrea England

Colin Linden knows how to create a sound. He takes the essentials and builds from the ground up. On Hope & Other Sins he brought along B.A.R.K. rhythm section Gray Craig (drums), John Dymond (bass) and John Whynot (piano, organ), and with Linden himself on guitars and mandolin, he has a solid foundation. There are plenty of guests too, including Dan Dugmore on pedal steel, Gordie Sampson on guitar and mandolin, and harmony vocals from Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Damhnait Doyle (her first name is pronounced DAV-net), and Liz Rodrigues. But the best band in the world doesn’t make a difference if the songs aren’t there. Fortunately, England can write a melody and a lyric.

She also had confidence in Linden’s abilities. “I knew that he would understand the aesthetic, the sound that I wanted,” says Andrea. “What I wanted to do was have a band play very organically in the style that I was first exposed to, which was old-school country music, and I knew he would do that. The authenticity and the musicianship, I knew he could bring to the music.” There is an old-time feel about the piece; one hears echoes of country music for sure, but also the clarity of Beatles’ guitars and the richness of the vocals. This is a timeless record.

“My hope was to make an artistic piece that was a reflective piece of art,” she says. “The sin? Well sometimes hope is sin to people who are cynical. And I am definitely not cynical.” Andrea England can’t be cynical; she has witnessed the healing power of music in her own life, and in the world at large. “Picture of You” is inspired by a visit to Ground Zero a few years after 9/11, seeing the impact the site has on visitors. I recall my own visit to the site, a year before England’s, the photographs stuck in a frost fence and the sense of loss I felt just being next to the hole in the ground.

The songs are autobiographical, personal, honest and universal. The performances are potent as you might expect; England’s vocals are delicate yet strong, powerfully supported by the band’s precision. The album is filled with hope … the sin would be that nobody hears it. 

– David Kidney has reviewed for Green Man Review and Sleeping Hedgehog. He published the Rylander Quarterly (a Ry Cooder-based newsletter) for 8 years before turning it into a blog, at He works at McMaster University as Director of Learning Space Development and lives in Dundas with his wife.

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