CD Review Victoria Banks – Never Be The Same (2011)
by Christian Lamitschka for Country Music News International Magazine & Radio Show
1. Come On
3. Never Be The Same
4. I’m Gone
5. Feel Like A Kid Again
6. Somebody Does
6. Somebody Does
7. Blue As My Broken Heart
8. Barefoot Girl
9. Mama Said Don’t
10. Remember That
10. Remember That
11. The Other Side
Label – On Ramp Records
Release Date – 26 April 2011 ( Canada) / 3 May 2011 (UK)
Time – 39:15
NEVER BE THE SAME marks the sophomore release for the 38-year old Muskoka, Ontario born and Nashville based song writer. With expectations running high after supporting superstar Reba McEntire on her Canadian tour along with garnering dual Canadian Country Music Association awards for Female Artist of the Year and Songwriter(s) Of The Year (Johnny Reid-‘Dance With Me’), Victoria Banks admitted to feeling nervous going into the studio to cut this album. She need not of worried regarding this 11-track offering because as far as this old grey is concerned it most certainly passes my whistle test and is nothing short than a triumph and something she can be rightly proud of.
Banks who produced the record assisted by Grammy-winning engineer Eric Legg takes the listener on a modern day Music Row journey drawing on her own personal experiences over the last 18 months. There have been many highs and lows: honours, singing at major venues, escape from an abusive relationship and sadly the loss a parent but seeking that inner strength to carry on.
Inside the digipak the liner notes include the quote “Music is the medicine of the breaking heart” – This project is about strength, resilience, empowerment and healing. It includes accompanying lyrics and a sepia-toned photo as a small child with her late mother. The challenge for any songwriter, when airing all of their laundry publicly, on a trial by fire basis, is to convey those messages authentically to gain universal acceptance. She certainly succeeds on this emotional roller coaster which is a labour of love from top to bottom.
It is by no means mournful and predominately upbeat which is immediately apparent on the energetic uplifting opener ‘Come On’, the first single released to radio. It’s co-written with Susie Brown and Danelle Leverett, better known as Texas-Utah girl duo The JaneDear Girls. Encountering the blank page syndrome at a Sony song writing session who better to turn to on a track that captures the whirlwind feeling of falling madly in the love than none other than Miss Taylor Swift! In an adjacent writing room they heard a piano being played and it sounded “really cool”. Socially they poked their heads round the door and kindly asked Taylor to play it for them on a yet to materialize song. Inspiration is infectious it seems, on returning Victoria picked up her guitar and the creative juices flowed. It’s written from sub conscious, with the delivery of lines like: Just Kiss Me, Leave It All Behind/ There’s No Use Waiting Or Hesitating, the girl drops hints like atom bombs to her guy on a first date on this breezy affair drenched with fiddle (Larry Franklin).
The swampy, hard hitting and purely fictional self penned murder mystery ‘Jackson’ is the one song that thankfully doesn’t draw on Banks’ own experience! As the writer of CCMA nominated single ‘The Wheel’ ideas seem to soak up whilst she’s on the highway. Part of the brain that questions and self edits, for her, are probably occupied when travelling – The words: It’s a long way back to Jackson in a beat-up Cadillac / With a Bible on the floorboard and a body in the back suddenly landed on the drivers lap. In time the different roles for the characters developed. Watching Reba side stage with story songs like ‘Fancy’, most likely stirred the thought process. An artist not afraid to take risks when exploring story telling aspects rather than worrying about labels serving up formulaic cookie cutters. Here Banks finally plays the part of a big sister who knows the truth and is there waiting late at night with a .45 and takes revenge in this soap opera.
With Bruce Hornsby-like opening piano riffs (Michael Rojas) the title cut ‘Never Be The Same’ quickly develops into a glorious piece, Banks breathy vocal is mesmerizing. Written with album graphic designer Mary Sue England (Pam Tillis band), herself no stranger to feeling pain she shares both the hurt and a joy as tears are washed away, with guitar salvos ringing out Banks digs deep as she sings the inlay words: I have lived and learned and healed and hurt and laughed and cursed and prayed, and I will never be the same. This track encompasses the album theme whereby difficult life experiences leave a mark, be they good or bad, and mold you as a human being. In time, given the right breaks scars heal and make you feel beautiful inside and with life’s simple pleasures once more bring forth a smile – From laying fresh flowers on a grave to seeing the future in a baby’s face.
On fast paced ‘I’m Gone’ , a misunderstood and undesired Banks spits out words in overdrive on this break-up track ,empathising with the emotion, Tania Hancheroff a demo and backing vocalist perfectly lays down a delicious harmony.
With its driving guitar riffs ‘Feel Like A Kid Again’ brings to mind Joe Walsh’s ‘Rocky Mountain Way’. This is one of 6 tracks that recording artist Rachel Procter collaborates on. Together they wrote Jessica Simpsons 2008 Top 20 chart single ‘Come On Over’. There is certain spontaneity between them, penning songs from an unstructured involuntary angle to a lyric and hooky melodies.
The heartfelt, emotional charged mid-paced ‘Somebody Does’, written with Procter and Julie Roberts, is self therapy for Banks. Feeling isolated the need to feel wanted and cared for is understood with every word as she utters: Somebody’s missing you, needing you, thinkin’ you hung the moon. The song writing trio again combine forces on the lively ‘Mama Said Don’t, it relates a tale of a rebellious teen disregarding mama’s advise when chasing the wrong boys. With deep bass lines Mark Hill (Keith Urban, Reba McEntire) and dynamic percussion (Scott Williamson) it maintains the gritty pace. The Southern gals here aid the Canadian, adding some American twang to the chorus line: “Mama said don’t/ I swear that I won’t”
The sparse, delicate and heavenly ‘Blue As My Broken Heart’ was seized from the original demo. Despite some sound issues the arrangement is truly magical. Kelly Back offers the most delicious guitar tones. One can easily get lost in the beyond the blue melancholy as tears are shared in an enriching manner. Sony writer Dani Flowers joins forces with Procter to develop a beautiful gentle energy which allowed Banks the freedom to be creative once more following her mothers loss.
The humorous ‘Barefoot Girl’ takes a swipe at the beauty industry chasing perfection. Forget the designer dress and high feels this real live lady prefers a pick-up truck ride to a riverbank getaway to have fun with her indebted man. A track reminiscent of the McEntire’s #1 smash ‘Turn On The Radio’ from the pen of Cherie and Mark Oakley.
‘Remember That’ was the first country single for Jessica Simpson from her 2008 album DO YOU KNOW. Here the song writers interpretation is powerful, the pain is felt, the writer offers sympathy to an abused woman advising her to be brave, take her heart and run. She’s been there and understands – I’ve stood there in your shoes. Primarily a songwriter over many years, pitching songs to other label artists, the ultimate trial as Banks is well aware is the 30 second test. A songs needs to be an attention grabber, with enough ear candy to keep it interesting. Here guitar fills and harmonies move it forward keeping it interesting whilst running a delicate line of adding too much so the message gets lost in the mix – The right balance is just about struck here.
The Celtic flavoured and prayer-like ‘The Other Side’, anchors this collection and holds significant bittersweet memories for Banks. Whilst busy with a tour schedule and just days before performing at the 2009 CCMA’s, she received the news of her mothers passing. She had to fly home to be with her family and decide with their blessing whether to curtail the concert dates or stay and grieve. She continued but returned to Ontario and was able to sing this at the funeral. The album is dedicated to her and with its uplifting vibes it fittingly reflects how she felt about life and death – Raise me up in a silent prayer or a newborn baby’s cry.
After the CD launch on May 17th at the Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe (“the songwriters church”), her now fiancé and backing singer David Petrelli, so impressed, took to the stage, played a song and promptly proposed!
Engage with Victoria Banks and you won’t be disappointed – this project rises above the ordinary.