Dana Parsons hasn't released an album in five years, but you probably haven't missed her. That's what she's hoping. Parsons has been pretty much everywhere over the past five years, performing smooth and sultry gigs on cruise ships with her jazz group Moon Glow Trio, doing pop-rock covers in bars around town with the Dana Parsons Project, or on stage acting, dancing and singing in Spirit of Newfoundland dinner theatre shows.
She's known for her belter of a voice, and her ability to sing anything and everything, from Annie Lennox and Joss Stone to ABBA and Aerosmith. It's what she likes to call "50 Shades of Dana."
Writing and performing her own music is where Parsons' heart truly is, however, and between gigs, she's been taking her time penning songs whenever life moves her to do so.
Tonight, she'll officially release her second record, "Within the Dark" with a party at the Rock House on George Street.
A graduate of Sheridan College's musical theatre program, Parsons has been writing music since she was 16, first motivated by her brother moving away to work. Her first album, "It's You Not Me!" - which won her the 2007 MusicNL award for CBC Galaxie Rising Star and earned her a 2008 East Coast Music Award nomination for Pop Recording of the Year - featured a mix of pop/rock and jazz tunes, many of them written when she was a teenager.
She's been in no rush to write since then, and, in fact, doesn't work well under pressure.
"I know some people are really methodical with it, but I can't do that," Parsons explained.
"I'm not the kind of person to sit down and force myself to write. Bit by bit, it just came together this year."
The record's title track is inspired by the movie "Crazy Heart," in which a downtrodden country music singer/songwriter tries to turn his life around.
"I had just watched it and it had a really country influence and I had never written a heavy country song, but I was just inspired to write after I saw that movie," Parsons said.
"The song is just about the turmoils of life and how you've just got to rise above it and let things go; leave things in the past sometimes. The lyrics are, 'Within the dark there is light, nothing good comes to you without a fight,' and hopefully it will mean something to people."
"Losing You" is a gut-wrenching piano ballad, while "Happy Song" is a tune that started off - unknowingly - sounding an awful lot like a Paul Simon tune, Parsons having written it just after finishing up a run of Spirit of Newfoundland's "Feelin' Groovy: A Musical Tribute to Simon and Garfunkel." The more Parsons and the band practiced it, the more she hated it.
"It was just not working," she explained. "I said, 'You know what, guys? We're going to strip this down, I'm not going to have the band.' I went out and bought a ukulele and Andrew (Brown), my guitarist, had never played one before. He did a great job, and it's awesome. We added Andrew (Stokes) on hand drum and now it's one of my favourite songs on the record."
With "It's You Not Me!," Parsons "beat herself up" vocally. She's not a fan of autotune - won't allow it anywhere near her recordings - and worked hard to make sure every note on the record was perfect, recording her lines a million times over.
"Within the Dark" perhaps shows Parsons' maturity as an artist: like she's written in her title track, she, too, has learned to let some things go, and if a note wasn't exactly what she wanted, she didn't sacrifice the feeling of being in a groove with the band to get it right. Some songs were recorded together as a band, right off the floor.
"Vocally, this album is not perfect and I didn't want or expect it to be. But it's real. It's raw," she said.
While "Within the Dark" isn't quite as jazz-influenced as her debut, Parsons' inspirations are still evident. Her personal musical heroes, including Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder, will always see her having a kind of throwback feel to her recordings, she said.
She feels this record's got quality content, a bit of every style, and a few risks she never would have taken five years ago. She's proud of the result.
"I feel like I put it all out there," she explained. "I can say regardless of what happens, regardless of if no one buys it, I can walk away tomorrow and know I'm leaving two albums I'm proud of as my legacy."
Tonight's launch party will get underway at 11 p.m. sharp, with no opening act. Parsons and her band will take to the stage to run through "Within the Dark" first and "It's You Not Me!" after an intermission, with the stories and anecdotes Parsons' live shows are known for in between.
In addition to the Dana Parsons Band (Jordan Peckham on bass, Stokes on drums, Brown on guitar/ukulele and her husband Wade Tarling on keys), Parsons will be accompanied by special guests Glen Collins and Rick Lambe on guitar, Donna Spurvey on flute and singers Chelsea Parsons, Carolynn Spurvey, Lauren Strong and Lora Cotter.
Cover is $10, or $15 with a copy of the CD.
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