When I first spun Collette Savard’s third CD,Best Dress, I got a warm, familiar, earlyCowboy Junkies rush.
Sure enough, the foundation of the new record was captured live-off-the-floor at St. Matthias church in west-end Toronto, a nod perhaps, to the Junkies’ famous The Trinity Session (in fact, Best Dress was mastered by Peter Moore, the sonic mastermind behind The Trinity Session).


Producer John Zytaruk plays a similar role for Collette Savard as Mike Timmins plays for Cowboy Junkies, filling the space with a rich foundation of highly skilled, largely acoustic instrumentation. Unlike the Junkies, however, the singer, Collette Savard, acts as the songwriter and mood-setter; she is a superb vocalist with terrific power and range, and one who appears to sing directly from her soul.


One of the many pleasing features on Best Dress is the variety of original songs on the record.
Zytaruk, Savard’s musical — and life — partner, said, “From the moment I met her, I knew she was that rarest of talents: a supremely gifted, natural songwriter. In the ten years I have known her, she still hasn’t started repeating herself.“


There is nevertheless a consistent, sweet, melancholic mood present in every note of Best Dress. For example, the piano parts on the record, played by the  incomparable Bob Wiseman, were recorded in the front room of the Tranzac club in Toronto, and if you’ve never heard that beer-soaked upright, well, as Zytaruk puts it, “that funky old piano has such character”. Indeed this record is loaded with character.


Engineer Joe Mancuso expertly captured prolific rhythm-section veterans Brian Kobayakawa (bass) and Adam Warner (drums), Zytaruk’s dobro, baritone guitar (which he uses to marvelous effect), banjo, acoustic guitar, lap steel, and hammered dulcimer, as well as Savard’s guitar, dulcimer, ukulele and banjo. Other complementary instruments include violin (Saskia Tompkins) cello and accordion (Steve McNie).


Rarely are lead vocals recorded along with the other instruments, even in live-off-the-floor sessions, but Collette Savard bucked the trend.


John Zytaruk explains: “What we did is record in a manner that was very old-school, the way many of our favourite records from the 50′s and 60′s were done: you take some well-rehearsed musicians, get them to play all together at the same time in a really great sounding room, and record it really well using great microphones.”
And as with many of those old recordings, it worked. Best Dress is quite simply a great record.

...I caught some great moments, including Collette Savard’s timeless vocals and zither* at the Songwriters Unite showcase.

Collette doesn't really know what a zither is but I think she meant the dulcimer. No matter, the shout-out was much appreciated Sarah! :-)

The final disc I want to mention also has a French connection, but in this instance it is Collette Savard’s rural Franco-Ontarian heritage that comes into play. Now living in Toronto, she has incorporated more urban jazz and pop-oriented sensibilities into her writing and composition, crafting what she calls “a soulful new style of folk music.” What drew me to Collette’s new CD Zen Boyfriend (www.collettesavard.com ) is its instrumentation. I cannot think of another contemporary instance where the main accompaniment is provided by dulcimer or ukulele. Oh there is ample acoustic guitar, with occasional dobro, violin, viola, percussion, bass, and on one cut even the baritone sax of Richard Underhill, but the most intriguing tracks involve Savard’s sturdy vocals with very meagre instrumentation, mostly provided by producer John Zytaruk. All the songs are original compositions. Particularly effective are Quarter-Life Crisis (banjo, guitar and bass) and the closing track Over the Waves where Zytaruk’s lap steel (at times reminiscent of John Gzowski’s haunting work with Mary Margaret O’Hara) provides the only support for Savard’s vocal melody and sparse ukulele strumming.

COLLETTE SAVARD -- ZEN BOYFRIEND (COCOSONGS) Collette Savard, who landed in Toronto via North Bay, brings a scent of the north woods with her on her sophomore album Zen Boyfriend. She's a captivating songwriter who paints with a broad acoustic palette on guitar, dulcimer, banjo and ukulele. Spanning pop, blues, light jazz, country and various folk idioms, she receives sympathetic production from longtime musical collaborator and multi-instrumentalist John Zytaruk (Buck 65) who produced Savard's 2005 debut Most Improved Cheerleader. There's a little bit of Sarah Harmer in Savard, but comparisons are superfluous. She and Zytaruk make their own, sweet music together.

The debut release from Canadian songwriter Collette Savard is a poignant and reflective folk album with pop and jazz sensibilities. Entitled Most Improved Cheerleader, the release was recorded in Savard's Toronto apartment and includes contributions from a variety of Canadian musicians including Juno award winning flugelhorn player Guido Basso. Savard mixes sweet pop melodies with a touch of irony to produce a clever and intriguing collection of contemporary folk songs.

Collette Savard is blessed with a soothing make you feel at home vibe, and she uses it with great flourish. Demonstrating this talent with the intelligent, moving piece "Hey Baby", Collette embellishes the true emotions of the seduction in motion. Collette Savard is a unique and extremely talented songwriter, boasting musical medleys that are simultaneously upbeat and calming. Her simple approach to lyrics are on point and beat right to the soul. A truly gifted singer-songwriter Collette Savard is force in the Folk/Pop genre and you'd only be doing yourself a favor by giving this jewel your full attention.

If folk is your thing then this is a good solid CD to add to your collection.

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Collette Savard: Best Dress

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