With her new album, “Are We in Love?,” Toronto-based blues guitarist Emily Burgess has stormed onto the scene with a vengeance. This absolutely phenomenal album is a tour de force, and if folks weren’t paying attention before, this project should definitely get their attention.
Although this album would probably be cataloged in the blues section in a record store, Emily explores several different genres on this project, and any fan of roots and rock will feel equally at home with these songs. Add to Emily’s considerable talent the fact that the album was produced by The Weber Brothers (for whom she is currently guitarist), and there is a definite recipe for success here.
The album opens with “Til I Get to Call You My Own,” a traditional enough blues tune in terms of rhythm and instrumentation. Emily’s terrific singing, however, raises this song well above average. (Not to mention her guitar chops, which are impressive and varied, as you’ll hear on this album.) “I Wanna Make You Mine” leans more toward rock toward blues, while the title track allows Emily to show a quieter, even pop-focused side (with some really lovely acoustic guitar work).
“All I Wanna Do Is Love You” shifts the mood yet again to a hard-hitting rocker of a song… if you aren’t dancing to this one within a minute or so, I’d be really surprised. “Only One in Your Dreams” is a terrific 21st-century love song and bluesy ode to that fidelity that so many of us seek in our relationships, pointed without being heavy. Although all the songs on the album are excellent, for me the closer “What Has Been Is All Within” is an acoustic delight, with gorgeous string accompaniment to match.
It would be really easy for an album this diverse to feel unfocused or choppy, but Emily’s singing – by turns sassy, tender, and rocking – makes this a truly enjoyable introduction to a tremendously talented artist. I’m really looking forward to seeing how she develops as a musician over the next several years; if this album is any preview of what’s to come, great things are ahead. Highly recommended.
We’re so pleased that Emily took the time to talk with us about her album.
Your album was produced by The Weber Brothers – how was the experience of working with them?
Working with the Weber Brothers was a no brainer for me! I have played in the Weber Brothers Band for 3 years now, so we are very close friends and bandmates. They have been integral to the whole process of developing my voice, playing, and songwriting – I didn’t sing at all until they encouraged it. Both Ryan and Sam are world class musicians just have endless ideas for what can be done with a song. We had a lot of fun making the album, along with Rico Browne on keys and Marcus Browne on drums, who are also Weber Brothers band members. James McKenty was the engineer and his ear was really important to the project as well.
What drew you to blues specifically as your focus? Are there specific musicians who inspired you to go down this particular musical road?
Being a teenager and learning the guitar, my heroes were Stevie Ray Vaughan, Johnny Winter, Jimi Hendrix, just to name a few. Playing with The 24th Street Wailers for many years really got me zoned in on playing blues as well. At this time I feel like writing and performing original songs is my focus, in whatever style they may be.
The title track is a surprise if one listens through the album in order… an acoustic ballad that’s really set off by its placement between harder rocking blues tracks. Do you have preference for one style over the other, or do you love both?
Yeah those ones are definitely contrasting. I don’t have any style preference, and don’t think much about what style a song will fit into. I just write what comes and hope that it’s good!
I always hate picking favorites on albums (mostly because I can’t ever narrow it down) but I really love the album’s closer, “What Has Been Is All Within.” Were there particular experiences that inspired this song?
I’m glad you like it! I did have a specific situation in mind with that one, but generally speaking it boils down to appreciating your past and knowing it’s safe and sound in your heart and memories, but not clinging onto it. Regardless of what I was writing about, I think it’s relatable for anyone who has experienced loss and can be interpreted a few ways.
You’ve participated in the Women’s Blues Revue for several years now. There are so many exceptionally talented female blues artists in Canada (yourself included) – do you feel like the playing field is level for you/them?
Everyone has their own experience – in mine I have felt that it’s a level playing field. It’s not an easy job and it takes an incredible amount of work for any musician to be successful. I do always joke that I could write a book about all the ridiculous comments and experiences I have had as a woman playing music, but that’s more of an annoyance than setback, and I know every other woman working as a musician could do the same.
We often ask musicians about their gear – what guitars do you play most frequently?
I play my Gibson ES 339 almost exclusively, I usually find a guitar and stick to it. Before I got the Gibson in 2013 I only ever played Strats! So I have a Deluxe Fender Stratocaster and a Mexican Strat as well.
You have a number of live gigs coming up in the next several weeks; are there any you’re especially excited about?
I’m definitely just looking forward to getting out there and playing. I have played in most the venues already, but never with my own group so that is exciting in itself. The band I’m touring with is myself, Rico and Marcus Browne. They are such fantastic musicians and hilarious people to be around.
Photo credit: Jen Squires