Do you ever hear a new tune from an artist with whom you have no familiarity, and literally stop dead in your tracks when first discovering their music? Okay, I’m sure many of you are nodding your head in response, but for a long-time music blogger (and music junkie) such as myself, who is pitched a LOT of new music, it really takes something special to stand out from the pack. Rewind the clock to last Friday, when Nova Scotia musician and good friend Erin Costelo recommended the release of “Cross My Heart,” the debut single from rising Charlottetown, PEI soul-blues artist Joce Reyome, and I’ll be honest with you, nothing could have prepared me for the next four minutes of my morning once giving this one a whirl. Hmm, maybe make that twenty minutes, given the number of times I eagerly hit the repeat button. Stopped dead in my tracks is an understatement! Here we are half a week later, and the poor repeat button is still taking a beating.
Originally from Attleboro, MA, Joce left the US to study music in Charlottetown, and has never looked back, finding both a welcoming new home and music scene that has seen the artist performing alongside PEI household names such as Irish Mythen, KINLEY, and Dylan Menzie. “When I was first starting to write music, it was very tame and folky, just me and an acoustic guitar,” Joce shares. “I really wanted to explore other genres, and started listening to some Otis Redding, Janis Joplin, [&] Earl Hooker, to feel that sound that comes from an old soul. All of a sudden, this straight blues idea came to mind.” Joce did not have to search beyond the Maritimes to find a kindred spirit well versed in soul and blues-based music, connecting with recording artist/producer Erin Costelo, when both artists crossed paths during the 2020 Folk Alliance International held in New Orleans. “I saw Erin perform in a showcase with her partner Clive MacNutt,” Joce recalls. “I found her vocals and arrangements of songs so incredible and I thought, ‘I want to do that. I want to be that type of performer.’ So, when I chose Erin, I was ready to dive in headfirst into this project.”
Co-written with Erin Costelo (who also produced), and mixed by PEI’s Colin Buchanan, “Cross My Heart” is a straight-up blues rocker that echoes the vintage soul and blues influences that Joce references, to which I would add hearing similarities in sound to the early pioneers such as Wilson Pickett. The instrumentation comes courtesy of a stellar supporting cast, featuring MacNutt (guitars), Leith Fleming-Smith (keyboards), and a trio of Andrew’s: Dowling (drums), Jackson & MacKelvie (horns). And taking nothing away from the backing vocalists, Erin Costelo and Jah’Mila, you cannot fail to be stunned by Reyome’s vocal delivery, which for me, matches the potency of modern-day Canadian powerhouses Samantha Martin and Dawn Tyler Watson – from the opening verse, to the final line: “I’ve been to southern Georgia / Left before the sunrise / You know, I’ve travelled farther / Than some people in their whole lives / You know I’ll always come on back to you baby / Cross my heart and hope to die.”
“Erin and I got to work trying to find a song that lined up with how I wanted to present myself as an artist,” Joce continues. “I asked Erin if she wanted to hear a verse of a blues song that has been collecting dust in my mind and from then on, we hit the ground running. This track has allowed me to step outside my comfort zone and explore a sound that speaks to my soul.” Of course, the untimely arrival of Covid-19 brought with it many challenges to the creative processes. Joce, along with Andew Dowling and Colin Buchanan, were back in PEI, while Erin and her bandmates were isolated in Nova Scotia due to the province-mandated travel restrictions. “We immediately adapted to recording and producing long distance,” Joce shares. “And it turned out incredible!” “We worked on this tune in the middle of lockdown, co-writing over Zoom, and then Joce recorded their parts, which I produced remotely over Zoom,” Erin adds. “With Clive, Leith, horns and background vocals done here, we sent them back to Colin at Hillside Studios to mix.”
Learning of the work and dedication from all of those involved in this project serves only to further my appreciation of the final result here; this song that I simply cannot stop listening to right now. The collaborative songwriting provides Joce the opportunity to drop in some well-crafted lines and metaphors: “I’ve driven miles and miles and miles / Smoked my weight in cigarettes / I ain’t no heavy gambler baby / But I’m going all in, I’m all in tonight.” Or my personal favorite: “Now don’t lie, I have seen you lovin’ / On someone else, the ultimate crime / While I’m loving you acoustically / She’s leaving you electrified.” If an artists’ palette were to consist of words alone, Reyome and Costelo’s brush strokes have painted a masterpiece on this particular canvas. “I can’t say enough good things about working directly with Colin and Erin, as well as the musicians who played on the track,” Joce offers in closing. “They each brought such a unique sound and vibe to the song. Allow my new single to transport you to summertime. This will be one to listen to at max volume, driving in the car on a comfy summer night.”
Photo Credit: Gessy Gislain