"There was freedom on that stage tonight."
So says Theo Tams, the former Canadian Idol champion, reborn and rejuvenated on the Phoenix stage Thursday night during a five-artist Fall preview showcase from Slaight Music, after performing a couple of songs from his fine new six-song EP, Call The Doctor.
After six years of artist development that included a previous EP and several singles, Tams feels he's finally delivered "the music I've been trying to make for a decade."
Following his soulful performances of "Good For You" and "Strangers," charismatic slices of neon cool that seemed to flow out of his mouth from a direct pipeline from his heart, Tams said he feels validated with his new vision and thanked the Slaight Music team for their patience and support.
"There was this team that not only got the vision that I wanted to go for – I wanted to write a record that would be played in people’s living rooms, in people’s bedrooms, in people’s basements - but they championed it as well," Tams explained. "I feel like a weight has been lifted off my career on that stage. "
"Not only did Slaight Music champion our music, but they're allowing us to develop as artists."
Tams' statement was undoubtedly something the rest of the Slaight artists - It's Your Shot winners Jillea, Kayla Diamond and Moscow Apartment, not to mention country baritone Ryan Langdon - would agree upon: the luxury of time to hone their craft. The obvious self-assuredness and professionalism of the roster on stage couldn't help but impress the 200-plus tastemakers in attendance, ranging from SOCAN’s Mike McCarty, CARAS head Allan Reid and his talented wife Kim Stockwood, to Billboard’s Karen Bliss, Bell Media's Rob Farina and others.
They all witnessed Kayla Diamond, who wore sneakers with ever-changing LED-lit coloured soles and opened the show by seemingly channelling Portishead trip-hop with her "Next Ex" ballad before delivering her radio-friendly top 40 hit "What You're Made Of."
The audience was introduced to the powerful barrel baritone of charming Nashville North country singer Ryan Langdon, delivering his Top 40 Jessica Mitchell-and-Patricia Conroy-penned "Leave Me Right" and the uptempo "She Knows It," a song that Langdon dedicated to "all the women who know they have their man wrapped around their finger."
Quispamsis, New Brunswick's Jillea, dressed in a slinky sexy black outfit with fringed sleeves, previewed a couple of funky tunes from her upcoming EP, including “Voodoo” and “Lie A Little,” before Moscow Apartment - the Rosedale Heights School of the Arts duo of Brighid Fry and Pascale Padilla - impressed the house with their duet of "Be You" and their full six-piece band blast of "Annie," the song that won them the most recent edition of It's Your Shot.
What's been most impressive about Moscow Apartment is the duo's meteoric evolution: six months ago they were featured at Toronto's Winterfolk while still being managed by their moms. Moscow Apartment has since retained Jeff Rogers as manager, have written a song with Chin Injeti, toured with The Good Lovelies and Ron Hawkins, won the $100K Slaight-sponsored radio talent contest, and are playing Boston this weekend.
As Rogers mentions, "I sent the EP out to people and it usually took them three-and-a-half minutes to phone me back saying that they want to book them. It's pretty universal."
For her part, Brighid Fry is amazed at how quickly things have progressed.
“We just started this as a fun high school band,” said Fry – who is in Grade 10 (Padilla is in Grade 11).
But this is the stuff that dreams and aspirations are made of - and many of the music industry movers and shakers that could make it happen were in the room pondering the future of these talented musicians.
Performers weren't the only order of the evening: 2016 It's Your Shot winner Notifi previewed his latest Sony Music Canada video, "Won't Get Lonely," that seemed to owe a nod to Drake's vocal stylings, and the evening kicked off with a screening of the countrified "Rise Up Redux" that intersperses original 1993 video of the Toronto band with such Canadian country superstars as Gord Bamford, and Jess Moskaluke, Washboard Union.
Introduced by Parachute Club's Lorraine Segato, it was announced by Slaight Music president Derrick Ross that a pop version of "Rise Up" will be out before the end of the year.
Rise up, indeed: the Slaight Music Fall Preview gave notice that several stars of their roster are on the brink of something bigger.
- Picture credit: Barry Roden Photography