Deckle edge

Lynn Miles
by Chris Flisher © 1996 /
(first published December 1996 Worcester Phoenix)

Mose Allison
Canada has long been known for it contributions to the world of popular music. You don’t need to be a trivia expert to know that Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, k.d.lang, Bryan Adams, and countless others have done more than their share in establishing the Great White North as a fertile ground for talented singer/songwriters. Sustaining and adding to that rightfully vaulted reputation comes Lynn Miles whose brilliant stateside debut, Slightly Haunted (Rounder) finds her laying the groundwork for joining the long ranks of successful Canadian musicians.

Ironically, Miles found that her homeland held little of the credit for establishing and discovering her obvious talents. Like the majority of successful Canadian artists who go on to break through in the States, Miles found that she had to leave Canada before Canada recognized her. “It’s kind of weird, but up here people want you to become successful somewhere else before they accept you in Canada,” admits Miles. “But, that may be because the music scene is so different since the government gets involved with the CBC (Canadian Broadcast Corporation) and, although they have been very good to me, there isn’t this overriding commercial drive that you find in a capitalist society like the United States. Canadian record companies have less money and are less likely to take risks. We are a young country and I don’t think we are as culturally developed as the United States. You have the blues and jazz and all that music that evolved out of the African American influence. We have none of that up here and what we do have, most of it comes from the US.”

Miles writes melodic songs that span a tenuous line between folk and country. Starting out as a cover artist, she frequently performed in bars and restaurants throughout Ontario, taking audience requests and building a repertoire of popular folk-based songs. However, it wasn’t until she started introducing her own material in between covers of Jackson Browne songs that she began to truly evolve as a songwriter. “It was really a hurdle of confidence,” she admits. “I knew I could write and I knew people would like my songs, so it was just a matter of getting my songs out to the right listeners. One day I just decided I wasn’t going to do covers anymore and I never went back to places where people wouldn’t listen. I had to get out of the cover scene and get into the rooms were people actually went to listen. That was a necessary step.”

As a regular performer on the coffeehouse circuit, Miles established a name and presence in the folk world that eventually lifted her out of Canada and brought her to the US.. And although her songs are probably closer to country that to folk, they contain the elements of tradition, fiction, and personal confession so often associated with folk music.

“You Don’t Love Me Anymore” rings with all the recognizable appeal of Top 40 country with little of the pretentious glamour and production. Although a personal reflection, the song’s lilting melody, combined with Miles’ gripping delivery, stands head and shoulders above so many other songs in a field of cloying New Country ditties. The same can be said for “I Always Told You The Truth,” which carries similar hook-laden and universally honest characteristics. In short, Miles is no country heart throb gussied-up in pseudo cowboy-wear. Rather, look for the insightful work of a genuine original along the lines of a Mary Chapin-Carpenter, whose work combines the best of melody, emotion, and intellect.

“I try and put my emotions into a geographical context or an emotional space and surround them with whatever experience I had at the time,” offers Lynn. “I also interview people in a casual manner and get ideas for songs. I think that lends a air of universality to the songs, because they aren’t always about me. There’s a piece of every one in there.”

True to her word, Slightly Haunted, presents broad themes, musical textures, and colorful geographic references. Delivered in a wash of tasteful instrumentation and soaring vocals, Miles’ songs paint images of sweeping openness and lofty spaces, seemingly culled from a life on the plains of Canada. Witness “This Heart That Lives In Winter,” in which she pairs the cold loneliness of heartbreak with the icy chill of Canadian winter, or “I Loved A Cowboy” where she conjures up wind-swept plains buoyed by the guitar work of Ian LeFeuvre who provides much of the atmospheric texture for Lynn’s songs.

“The weather is a major influence for me, for some reason,” she chuckles, continuing, “But, it is a positive one. It dictates the way you live and how you approach life. I am very much affected by the physical area that I am in at the time that I write. I am not just spewing out random ideas.”

The universality of Miles’ topics, coupled with the evocative settings of her songs, point to the work of captivating songwriter. “All my songs come from a place in me where I am at the time I write. I love having seasons because every time the weather changes I feel the desire to write. That change is good and necessary for growing. We are all haunted by the weather and our past and our lives are a mixture of that—some a lot, some slightly.”
Chris Flisher

Deckle edge