Despite her still being a relative newcomer to the Canadian music scene, Serena Ryder has done a lot since the release of her first album Unlikely Emergency in 2005. She’s done an album of covers by Canadian singer/songwriters and an additional EP with Toronto band The Beauties (where she covered songs by Kylie Minogue and Hank Williams Sr, among others). She’s won a few Juno awards and established herself as a powerhouse vocalist with her live concerts showing off her five-octave range. All of that leads to her latest album that takes everything she’s done so far and blends it into Harmony.
Harmony is a result of a short period of songwriting that came about when Serena’s manager suggested she head to Los Angeles to start from scratch after having already written 65 songs in the year prior. Except for having taken some time away to deal with personal issues including depression, Serena spent much of the last four years touring and testing out her new material before recording these new songs.
The album is a mixture of old and new as Serena fuses many genres into one ten-track record. Baby Come Back is a 60’s styled finger-snapper that twirls over a light piano melody before ending on an instrumental breakdown, one of the album’s most interesting songs. Meanwhile, For You uses an interpretation of Nina Simone‘s version of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins‘ I Put A Spell On You for her own blend of jazz and blues that show the best example of Serena’s vocal showcase on the record. Please, Baby Please is the album’s signature ballad where her voice is in full control as she begs “please baby please/come back to me.”
There’s also plenty of pop/rock that don’t depart too far from Serena’s Is It O.K.-era sound. Call Me is introduced similarly to her 2009 hit All For Love while songs like What I Wouldn’t Do and Mary Go Round are friendly and familiar folk-pop. She even channels Celine Dion circa 1993 on the harmless Heavy Love which still sits comfortably in the mix.
The weakest aspect of the album is in the lyrics which soon become predictable; especially with the two back-to-back songs in the middle of the album where Serena sings “baby come back/come home” and “please baby please/come back to me.” While the songs are presented within attractive melodies and clean production, sometimes the lines can be finished even before she gets to do it; leading to a lack of adventure for someone whose songwriting has been pretty forward and refreshingly carefree.
Harmony is a nice album in that it confirms Serena’s capabilities as someone who can partake in a wide range on the musical spectrum. She’s choosing not to firmly plant herself into a single area and be limited by genre labels. However, the record is limiting in that it doesn’t truly show off the best of Serena’s abilities as a performer, vocalist, writer or artist. She’s destined to be one of Canada’s greatest musicians but this record may put that on hold for the time-being.
1. What I Wouldn’t Do
3. Call Me
4. Baby Come Back
5. Please, Baby Please
6. For You
7. Heavy Love
9. Mary Go Round
10. Nobody But You