Don't let the album title fool you. There is absolutely nothing misguided or foolish about Call Me A Fool, the astonishingly assured debut album from 21-year-old Toronto jazz/pop songstress Eliza Pope. To be launched at local jazz hub The Jazz Bistro on May 19, it introduces us to a young artist of immense potential.
The idea of even making a record arose spontaneously last summer, Pope recalls. "I had a gig with [ace bassist] Ross MacIntyre and [guitarist] Nathan Hiltz, and I was picking Ross' brain as to the next best step for an artist in my situation," Eliza recalls. "He suggested recording an album, and I loved the idea."
Things moved quickly once renowned pianist/arranger Mark Kieswetter (Emilie-Claire Barlow, Harry Manx) came on board. "He agreed to co-produce with me and do the arrangements, and he proved my rock on this project," Pope says. The pair were joined by MacIntyre (Matt Dusk, Elizabeth Shepherd), guitarist Eric St-Laurent (Dave Douglas, Richard Underhill), and drummer Max Roach at top Toronto studio The Drive Shed to record Call Me A Fool.
Studio mainman/engineer John 'Beetle' Bailey (Molly Johnson, Emilie-Claire Barlow) supervised the sessions, described by Eliza as "just so painless and smooth, with a great vibe right off the bat. John told me it was remarkable how smoothly it went for a first album. For someone who doesn't have a name in the business yet I feel so honoured that I got to work with such high-calibre people who really gave it their all."
That vibe is audible in the warm sound of Call Me A Fool. On this stylistically eclectic ten-song collection, Pope proves equally convincing in breathing new life into Songbook standards ("Over The Rainbow," "Crazy 'Bout My Baby"), Brazilian favourite "Besamé Mucho," and such favourites from the pop canon as "Hit The Road Jack" and Beatles gem "Here Comes The Sun."
Eliza also introduces herself as a skilled songwriter, via three original tunes, "Try," "Black and White," and "Where Will I Find Love." "I have been writing seriously from high school, but this is the first time my songs have had a chance to shine in a polished setting, and that's so exciting," she explains. "My songs come from a deep place within, so being able to share that adds an extra dimension. It lets people know a bit more about you as an artist, not just what your voice can do."
She singles out "Try" as having a special significance. "The idea for that song came two years ago. I was thinking about what kind of pressing issue there was in my life that I had an emotional connection to and it was this notion of wondering where my music will go and if I can be successful in it. For me, that song is about having aspirations and trying to handle the vulnerability that comes along with it."
The refreshing diversity of the material on Call Me Fool was premeditated. "One facet of my voice I'm most proud of is its versatility," says Eliza. "With the song selection, I wanted to showcase that. I have some bigger numbers where you can hear the roughness and power in my voice as well as softer numbers where that vulnerability seeps through and you can hopefully hear the emotion in my voice."
That aim is certainly realized here. "Feeling Good," for instance, shows that Pope can nail a hearty blues song, while "Hit The Road Jack" has an empowering attitude. She can also do light and breezy ("Where Will I Find Love") and warm and sentimental ("Here Comes The Sun"), and can shine equally on a tender and mellow ballad ("Little Girl Blue").
The title of Call Me A Fool comes from "Try," her declaration of creative intent: "Call me a fool. See if it matters, I'm still going to try." On this superb debut album, Eliza Pope doesn't just try. She succeeds, in triumphant fashion.