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Dala and the Undesirables (June 21, 2008)

We’re just back from the most AMAZING show in Meaford tonight, featuring Dala and the Undesirables. Oh baby, this show was hot!

You know, we’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to see both groups perform separately, thanks to the brilliant booking skills of Susan and Irwin at the Knox Acoustic Cafe. But to have both duos on the same stage in one night and even, for a few songs, on stage at the same time? I call that heaven!

My lovely wife phoned for tickets on the day they went on sale, scoring us seats front row and center, so we couldn’t have gotten any closer to the action. Seems to me we sat in the front row for both of their Knox shows as well, so it’s kind of become a tradition at this point…

The setting was the Meaford Town Hall, which is really quite a beautiful building, and we were admiring the recent renovations to it and talking excitedly about the imminent show when the house lights went down and out came Dala!

There’s no other way to say it, so here it is: Sheila Carabine and Amanda Walther are so talented! They can sing like nobody’s business, and their harmonies are perfectly timed and pitched. Their songs are intelligent and bright, loads of fun, and they’re always telling a story from their life experiences to great effect. We really enjoy their inclusive banter on-stage as well, that easy-going rapport that brings the crowd right up there with them.

As with their recent Knox show, this set was brilliant. They played a lot of the same songs they played last time, and even some of the between-song stories were familiar, but it hardly mattered at all given the power of their performance. Really! Each song was awesome. Have a look at the set list:

Drive-Through Summer
Both Sides, Now (Joni Mitchell)
Sunday Dress
Where Have All The Boys Gone
Anywhere Under The Moon
Hockey Sweater
Marilyn Monroe
All I Have To Do Is Dream (on ukulele)

Now, that’s only 8 songs, which I might argue is a little short, but I’m probably just greedy. After all, I could listen to them sing all night long, any night of the week.

There was a brief intermission, during which I had a huge grin on my face caused by Dala’s skills, and then on came the Undesirables. Lucky us! This is another group that we love, and they too were in fine form on this evening. Sean Cotton’s guitar work was stellar yet again, his fingers flying and the riffs were continually amazing. Corin Raymond’s seemingly boundless kinetic energy and body language, propelled by the music, had him prowling the stage as he sang. He even howled off-microphone on occasion, as only he can. This pair is really something to behold when they’re in full flight.

Their unique take on the blues was strong in the air tonight, and with many of the songs they chose to play involving dark themes, it was made even more spooky by their excellent vocals. It all fit together very well indeed. You know, if Corin hadn’t pointed it out, we probably wouldn’t have noticed that just about every one of their songs mentions the rain. Interestingly, this turned out to be a prophetic observation, as we later stepped back onto the street after the show and into a pouring rain. But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit. The Undesirables’ set was completely fantastic, check it out:

Credit River
Night Train
The Dog You Forgot To Let In
Singing Bones
This Town
Up Above The Clouds

Again, only 8 songs. But it was at this point that the night became even more amazing, as the Undesirables asked Dala to join them on stage for a few songs! Imagine! It was like a Supergroup, and the results were wholly riveting. All four together melded perfectly into one unit that sounded like it was meant all along to be just like that. They’re definitely great each on their own, and then together it all gets multiplied! Oh, the harmonies. My word.

So, together they played:

The Names Have Been Changed To Protect The Lonely
Don’t Let Me Down (Beatles)

And then they all waved and said good night, leading us to believe, briefly, that that was going to be it for the night. But they never really left the stage as the ovation continued because, you see, there’s more to this story…

Now, Corin had let it slip in one of his frequent email newsletters that the two groups had co-written a song and would be unveiling it for the first time at this show. Once again, we count ourselves so fortunate to be there to hear it! It’s a beautiful piece, to be sure, which asks the eternal questions of tentative new love, made even more amusing as both groups acknowledged comments from fans at various shows that they should all go on a big double-date. They seemed amused by this, and had a good laugh with it all night, but it made the new song that much more poignant. Interesting.

So their encore set list looked like this:

You Really Got A Hold On Me (Smokey Robinson and the Miracles)
In My Room (Beach Boys)

When it was all over, we were spellbound. No one could argue against the genius of these performances. It was beautiful.

Eventually they left the stage, and we headed back to the merch tables and bought a poster which all four of them signed. It was a real pleasure to thank them all personally for such a great night, and it was unexpected and cool that Sean and Corin remembered my lovely wife and I from after their Knox gig. We passed along greetings from Irwin and Susan as well (since they unfortunately couldn’t be there for the show), and I told Corin about this site and review so if you’ve read this far, hi guys!

Folks, go get all of Dala and the Undesirables’ albums. Right now. And if either of these two groups are playing anywhere near your house, You. Must. Go. There can be no questioning, no interruption in achieving this goal, no hesitation as the time draws near. Your mission is to seek out both of these amazing groups and let their music fully into your lives for good.

This show rocked.

Dala (w. Hayden Stewart) (May 10, 2008)

Last night was yet another amazing show in the fantastic line-up of the Knox Acoustic Cafe schedule. I know that I say this in every review but, seriously folks, if you live in the area and you’re not coming to these gigs, you are missing out on consistently brilliant live music in a welcoming and classy setting, right here in your own backyard!

To accommodate the anticipated larger crowd, this show was held upstairs in the sanctuary of the church. And judging by the actual turn-out last night, which looked to me to be around 200 or more, it was a good call indeed. They surely would have had to turn people away at the door if it had been held downstairs on the usual Knox stage.

The opening act was Hayden Stewart, winner of the recent Knox Acoustic Cafe Youth Showcase. Hayden’s set was very short, with only around 5 songs, but he made the most of his time with well-played, intelligent tunes. He spanned the range from global warming to the Wizard Of Oz with aplomb, and even went to the piano for a John Cale-inspired cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. Hayden, for such a young man, is a very talented player and a proficient songwriter who will definitely go far in the coming years. Remember his name, folks, and go see him play when you can!

After a very short break, we moved to the main event as Dala took the stage and lit up the room with their energetic, excellent songs. Sheila Carabine and Amanda Walther, this inimitable duo, both seemed to be genuinely having a great time, mentioning several times how Owen Sound has been good to them and how appreciative they are for the support they’ve found here, especially at Summerfolk. Well, with brilliant songs like these, how could we not?

Dala is a well-balanced duo in every way. Sheila’s voice is the solid, cool and clear base over which Amanda’s higher, deceptively more fragile (but equally powerful) voice can soar. Taken separately, each is a stellar vocalist, but together they are unstoppable. And their harmonies? Oh my goodness. It’s like attending a Master’s class on the subject, presented with the ease born of much practice and unquestionable natural talent. These are two truly gifted young ladies.

Their stage presence is a highly pleasurable mix of well-rehearsed, balanced performance and a humorous, spontaneous between-song banter that is both endearing and warm. They are truly at ease with the crowd, and that welcoming and open attitude easily brought the people way up in the back of the balcony right down front with them. My lovely wife and I were, luckily, already sitting front row center, so we got the full effect of the show.

Dala’s original music is beautifully crafted and full of life, reflecting the duo’s stage presence perfectly – it is warm, intelligent, fun and, most importantly, genuine. They seem to be living their music to its fullest, and that means the world to the audience experience. They sing of love, laughter, loss, and longing, the stuff of life as they see it. There’s a real joy in all of their music that is beautiful to behold. Over their two sets, they both played guitar and piano with unwavering, engaging brilliance. You would do very well indeed to own their albums and play them constantly!

Throughout the evening they played some cover songs as well, with an excellent version of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now and, later on, a delightful ukulele-fueled interpretation of the Everly Brothers’ All I Have To Do Is Dream. But they also seem to have a penchant for blending and/or quoting more than one song at the same time. Their beautiful rendition of Neil Young’s Ohio suitably quoted U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday for a moment, while their rousing cover of Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth shifted easily back and forth with the Rolling Stones’ Can’t Always Get What You Want. Later on, their finger-snapping version of Peggy Lee’s Fever melded effortlessly with Ray Charles’ Hit The Road Jack. And for their encore, they both sat at the piano for a run through of Joan Osborne’s One Of Us, which cradled the Stone Roses’ I Wanna Be Adored in its middle like it always should have been there.

Dala is unquestionably a great show to see, folks. If you missed last night’s performance, you should definitely go to their site for information about upcoming gigs and, when one is happening close to your house, please take my unflinching recommendation and go check them out. I promise you cannot possibly be disappointed. Dala is here to stay.

Our immense thanks go once again, as always, to Susan and Irwin, for their continued awesomeness in bringing these shows to life. Your hard work, enthusiasm and dedication to the Knox project is an inspiration for us all.

Next up is Eve Goldberg on June 14. Eve will be offering a vocal harmony workshop that afternoon (Dala need not apply, they’ve already got it nailed!), and then she’ll be performing on the Knox stage that night. We can’t wait!

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