Every now and then, a musical artist appears on my radar, as if from nowhere. The joy of discovery is the reward for digging in to learn more. Such is the case with my introduction to Uxbridge, ON-based soul-folk singer-songwriter Tania Joy, whose powerful sound evokes comparisons to Tracy Chapman and The War And Treaty. Her new 7-song EP “I Will Stand” packs a genuine, impactful punch of authenticity and shows an artist who is unafraid of dealing with the messiness of life. This is a multifaceted work, running the gamut from protest to light-hearted fun, so allow me to unpack it track-by-track before considering it as a whole.
The journey of this EP embarks with my personal favorite track of the bunch, “Who I Am.” Simply-strummed guitar chords at the opening prepare the listener’s palate for the unadorned transparency of the lead-off lyrics: “Did you know that I’m scared of my guitar / No one ever told me it would be this hard / Sing the words that I write down / Face the folks in my small town / Start this road that runs for years / Fight the failure, fight the fear.” These opening lines are a tour-de-force of honesty! Tania grapples with feeling the calling to make the music that is a deep part of her, the vulnerability of unashamedly being herself, and with the passage of time in a relatable way. She sums it all up in the title refrain: “Who I am is what I’m scared to do.” I find the last verse is perhaps most poignant, as she finds herself growing more like her mother with each passing year: “I’d sacrifice all my plans / To hold the world in just one hand / See the light through my children’s eyes / Let them grow and watch them fly.” This initial track sets the tone for the brilliantly straightforward, yet clever, songwriting of Tania Joy.
“Blink,” the next song in the order takes a very different approach, with its minor-chord mystery and dramatic feel. “In the blink of an eye can change / I can change your life” is such a good line – like a mic-drop moment that forms the lyrical hook. The strings in this tune give it a cinematic feel, as though the song could be rolling over an emotional moment in a film. The song ends with the fittingly unresolved words, “Blink / I can’t erase this memory of you.”
On the next step on this journey, Tania Joy reckons with yet another “Black life shattered / For all the world to see.” The title, “Planks and Marietta,” is a reference to two cross-streets in Tania Joy’s hometown that were the scene of a racist incident, and she was moved to pen this poignant work after the tragic murder of George Floyd. She bares her own difficult relationship with racial inequality as she sings, “Your sticks and your stones never broke my bones / But your names still haunt me.” Meanwhile, the music, especially the chorus’ guitars and the outro’s call-and-response vocals recall classic acts like The Ronettes and updated takes like those of Andra Day – an effective counterpoint. The protagonist has endured and even triumphed, but still grieves the fact that our society still has so much progress yet to be made to ensure equality.
Tania turns the corner into a personal lament in “The Drought,” starting by laying out these lines: “I pray it’s raining outside / Cause my tears have long dried / And my love, like the tide, has gone out.” She expresses the perspective of a woman who is tired from neglect and uncertainty. The opening lines read like an old blues song, and the sound feels like a new classic by Leon Bridges. A comparison to Tracy Chapman is apt, especially on her vocal delivery in the chorus.
As easy to relate with as an updated “Lean on Me,” “I Can Do That For You” finds Tania at her catchiest and poppiest. She offers these encouraging words to her fellow woman, in a statement of hopeful solidarity: “When you look in the mirror / And you can’t see the truth / You just wanna disappear / But the beauty is within you.” This is an uplifting and light song that simultaneously manages to be substantial. The instruments, except for the drums, drop out in the closing lines of the song, inviting the listener into a joyful singalong.
The title track, “I Will Stand,” is a very good companion piece to “Planks and Marietta,” while returning to the straightforward lyrical approach of “Who I Am.” Tania sings, “I will stand in the light,” showing herself to be resolute, and to keep her peace in the face of hostility, reminiscent of the nonviolent resistance of Martin Luther King, Jr. This feels like a song that Pete Seeger would embrace and lead groups in singing if he were alive now.
“Stay Here,” the EP’s concluding song, completes the EP’s range of emotions. It feels like the other side of the coin of “I Will Stand.” Honestly, it’s sobering. Tania sings, “If we choose to stand, if we choose the light / If we choose our hearts instead of our minds / Do we choose to stay?” She lands on these closing lines, leading us to think about the choices we make today: “It looks small, it feels small, this life we’re living / Ain’t it hard to imagine your children’s children.”
And so, concludes the journey that is “I Will Stand.” To paraphrase Tania Joy’s own statement about the project, these songs are a call to be seen, to empower each other, and to lean into the light. Whether Tania’s new EP is a fresh introduction to her music, as it is to me, or if you are a long-time fan, you will find something meaningful to dig into here. “I Will Stand” is available now as an independent release.
Photo Credit: Tracy Walker
Matt Wheeler is a Lancaster County, PA-based singer, songsmith, stage-banter conversationalist, husband, & special-needs father. And an avid vinyl record collector, a purveyor of random facts, & tour-er of Canada (southern Ontario is a favorite destination). Ever since being introduced to Great Lake Swimmers' music through Pandora in about 2009, he has had an appreciation for Canadian music.
Matt's songs & stories, including his classic literature-based project "Wonder of It All," can be found at www.mattwheeleronline.com.