I first heard of Canen after I reviewed Anna Coogan’s most recent release, The Birth of the Stars. In her message, Coogan said that she had produced the record, and that the artist was twelve years old. Naturally, I was curious to see what kind of music an artist of that age would put out. I expected any display of electronically driven teeny-bopping, but A Matter of Time surprised me. The album is a collection of (mostly) old standards, timeless songs penned by the Gershwins, Fats Waller and others, sung in a way that lets Canen’s unique personality shine.
Once the initial shock of Canen’s age subsides, it becomes obvious that she is a rare prodigy. She sings with the soul of someone who has loved and lost and loved and lost and loved again. Her rendition of “Ain’t No Sunshine” is made heavy with a sadness to rival Withers’ own. “Ain’t Misbehavin’“ comes across with the sultry timbre of someone quite in tune with the feelings of love expressed in that particular number. She pays respects to the old iconic versions of these songs while at the same time improvising on these classic melodies, making them her own and telling the truth with them. It’s clear that hers is a talent far beyond her years.
Even so, it would be remiss not to mention the other talents present on her EP as well. Canen, while a notable talent herself, would make much less of a splash without her studio players. Pianist, Michael Stark takes several smooth solos, the best of which comes in “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” Drummer, Brian Wilson and cellist, Hank Roberts are rock solid as well, each playing with a tasteful restraint that is essential in Norah Jones-ey jazz ensembles.
It’s actually that very restraint that leaves the listener a little wanting. It’s clear that on every musician’s mind is a singular goal: to help Canen’s vocals shine—and with good reason. She’s phenomenal. If half of the musicians of the world were able to use such discretion, the world would certainly be a better place. Even so, hers is a talent that can carry itself, and what keeps this record from being truly great is a lack of more personality from all players. For example, I found myself wanting a more playful key solo, or maybe some more advanced drum fills between sections on “I’ve Got a Guy in Kalamazoo” to complement the song’s fun, bouncy jazz feel.
As talented as Canen clearly is, she could vary her expression a bit more between songs. Her sultry and sorrowful tones are spot on, but when something a little more light hearted comes along—for example, “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm”—her vocals struggle to carry that lightness with them. At such a young age, however, there’s plenty of time to grow.
Coogan herself penned the album’s final track, “A Matter of Time,” which drastically changes the record’s sound from jazz to something considerably more Beatle-esque. The song is intriguing in its own right, but it also feels out of place here. A rock beat replaces the relatively consistent jazz swish set up by the rest of the album. While containing some cool arranging typical of Coogan’s other music, it differs greatly from the simple arranging present on the other tracks. The song serves as more of a left turn to finish out the record than a concise summation of what is really quite a delightful recording overall.
There is no question that Canen is set to do some great things. Already a considerable talent, she will, given time, blossom into one of the region’s great musical treasures. We can only hope that her EP represents the future of music, even as it celebrates some of its greatest past moments. Check it out. You’ll be glad you did.
Full length, please.
Favorite Track: “Ain’t No Sunshine” is perfectly faithful to the soul of the Bill Withers original, while stripping down some of the more lavish arranging for a more bare bones interpretation. The result is a track that accentuates Canen’s incredible soul, and feels as raw as the sentiment the song conveys.