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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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