Internationally acclaimed recording artist Emm Gryner may be a seasoned veteran of the music scene, but remains a proud local of the London, ON community, and one who happily showcased her talents as the Home County Saturday evening main-stage headlining act. You could be excused for thinking this to be a walk in the park on most nights for an artist of Emm’s caliber, but following some stellar main-stage performances from JUNO-Award nominees The Slocan Ramblers, JUNO-Award winners The Fretless, and the emerging PEI trad-trio Inn Echo, before her, Emm (a 3-time JUNO Award nominee) raised her game accordingly and delivered an incredibly diverse set of original music and covers on this given evening.
Walking out on to the stage to a thunderous home-town reception, Emm (vocals/keys/bass) strapped on an immediately recognizable 1980s pink Fender PJ bass – one we recall her purchasing from Currie’s Music in Gravenhurst the last time we caught up with her in 2019 – and was joined by her full band, Jaron Camp (guitar), Rachael Frankruyter (guitar/keys/vocals), and, per Emm, “The jewel of Stratford, Ontario,” Stephan Szczesniak on drums. Of course, Stephan needed no introduction – his drumming style is just so distinctive that you know when he’s back there pounding the skins. And, over the course of an hour, with her bandmates rotating in and out as the set list dictated, Emm Gryner closed out the evening in style – as if we expected anything less.
Launching immediately into her own back catalog of popular hits, the evening commenced with great versions of “Ciao Monday” (the first of two tracks taken from the 2011 “Northern Gospel” album) and “Beautiful Things” – an oldie, but a goodie found originally on “Asianblue” (an album that celebrates its 20th birthday this year). As Emm unstrapped her bass following these tunes, she returned to the microphone and addressed the crowd. “Thank you guys so much. Are you ready to commit jazz with me? Let’s all get carried away and pumped,” she declared. “Right before the world went crazy, I made a jazz album and I made it for my dad, because he taught me about the beauty of this kind of music when I only wanted to listen to hair metal. So, this is what happens when someone who loves hair metal makes a jazz album. No big deal.” Two consecutive jazz covers would follow (both found on her 2020 “Just For You” album), the 1950 Milton Delugg and Willie Stein penned classic, “Orange Colored Sky,” and the timeless jazz staple, “Let’s Face The Music And Dance.”
Mixing their set with multiple genres and styles, the band would deliver several cover versions, including a tribute to Canadian singer-songwriter (and founder of the Songwriter’s Association of Canada) Terry McManus, and a feisty take on a Joni Mitchell classic. “I want to dedicate this song to my daughter, who is here,” Emm shared prior to this song. “She’s staying up late, she’s ten, she just got a hamster. His name is Buttercream, and this song is not about a hamster, it’s about a coyote.” And, although Emm made no mention of her latest project that is still in the recording and mastering stages of production, she added a little Christopher Cross into the mix – itself a likely inclusion as part of her upcoming “Business & Pleasure” album. Officially billed as a contemporary soul record that fuses jazz, pop, rock and poetry, for Emm, unofficially, this project ignited from her appreciation of 70s and 80s Yacht rock music.
Naturally, it would be a criminal act to perform some popular covers and not pull out a tune from her 2001 JUNO-nominated “Girl Versions” album – so Emm was only too happy to pump up the crowd and ask them to jump on board. “We need somebody to do the All Aboard. Who’d like to volunteer and say…,” Emm started, before a muted cry of “All Aboard” could be heard from several rows behind us. “…oh we got it, usually I have to wait for somebody to do that, but you guys are ready.” With the departure of her bandmates, Emm sat alone at her keyboard, ready to share her slow-tempo and simply outstanding interpretation of the classic Ozzy Osbourne hit, “Crazy Train.” Hey, she did mention earlier about having a passion for hair metal as an impressionable kid – those seeds were planted well in advance. “Yeah, I knew you wouldn’t let me down, London,” she offered, before sharing this song.
With the support of her bandmates once more, the evening was closed out with both a rowdy and rocking version of one of Emm’s more recent compositions, “The Spark,” before winding the clock all the way back to 1998, and sending the crowd home with the popular hit, “Summerlong.” Cue hearing ‘farewell’ and ‘goodnight’ before the band exited the stage, the pause as the audience hollered for one more, and the band invited back to perform that final encore number – this time opting to cover a Fleetwood Mac tune. A solid Saturday evening of music took place on the Home County main stage, and was capped by this amazing set from one of southwestern Ontario’s finest musicians on the scene today. Thanks Emm – I’m sure I speak for many when I state that “We missed you during these crazy pandemic times.”
- Ciao Monday
- Beautiful Things
- Orange Colored Sky
- Let’s Face The Music And Dance
- Life Goes On (Terry McManus cover)
- Crazy Train (Ozzy Osbourne cover)
- Coyote (Joni Mitchell cover)
- Sailing (Christopher Cross cover)
- The Spark
- Dreams (Fleetwood Mac cover)
Photo Credit: Martin Noakes