Modern life moves fast. It’s easy to stumble through your days, suppress your desires, swallow down your dreams. To hear Layla Zoe sing is to experience an emotional awakening. “I want people to get in touch with the feelings they bury deep inside their hearts,” explains the Canadian singer-songwriter. “I rip people’s hearts out, then put them back in…”
After nine acclaimed albums and too many tear-it-up live shows to count, Breaking Free is the release that confirms Layla’s status as the pack-leader and standout voicebox of Canadian blues. More than that, this tenth album is set to skyrocket her upward trajectory on the international scene, and build on the momentum of 2013’s The Lily (dubbed “thrilling” by The Blues and crowned amongst Downbeat’s Best Albums Of The Year).
Ever since she fell for the blues via her father’s record collection – then fronted his band aged just fourteen – it was clear that Layla had a voice in a million. Those astonishing lungs have led her from early cover bands in British Columbia to her debut solo album in 2005, through sessions with Henrik Freischlader and hook-ups with Sonny Landreth, and onto world-renowned stages from Montreal Jazz Festival to Rockpalast. No wonder that her much-missed friend and occasional collaborator Jeff Healey was once moved to comment: “She’s created probably the biggest buzz vocally of any singer I’ve heard about in years in Toronto. She is wonderful…”
By turns, Breaking Free is tough and tender, wild and wistful, slipping between the poignant, Hendrix-tinged balladry of Sweet Angel, the chiming shimmer of A Good Man and the title track’s slinking rock ‘n’ roll groove. “I’m a music lover of many different genres,” explains Layla, “so this album, like all my albums, reflects that. Jan produced and wrote all the music, and he gave me a great selection of demos to choose from. There’s everything from blues ballads, to blues-rock, to psychedelic rock.”
With recording engineer Martin Meinschäfer on hand to bottle the magic, the studio band was completed by Gregor Sonnenberg (bass/keys) and Hardy Fischötter (drums/percussion), while the touch of slide-guitar maestro Sonny Landreth on Wild One is unmistakable. “Sonny is a good friend of mine and I was so happy to have him as a guest,” recalls Layla. “Also, I think the song suits his style perfectly.”
As the pen behind Breaking Free, meanwhile, Layla reveals herself as a fearless and heartfelt lyricist. “Because of where I am in my life right now,” she says, “several of the songs are about love. But there are also songs about the music business, and a song for my best friend Marsha, who died of a brain aneurysm in 2010. There’s a political song, too, as I always like to have at least one track on each album that talks about current events in the world.”
Layla and her band have already debuted a fistful of the Breaking Free songs on tour in late 2015, with the feverish response helping to cement the tracklisting. “It was really special to see how the fans reacted and how much positive feedback we got,” she says. “Being on the road can be a curse and a blessing, but anytime I get tired, I’m always revived the moment I step onstage and connect with the audience. The music and the fans give me everything I need to carry on.”
Now, as she unveils that roof-raising material in its studio form, the buzz on the international blues scene is deafening. Breaking Free and breaking through, in 2016, Layla Zoe comes armed with the album that delivers on her skyscraping potential. Hang on to your hearts…