Toronto-based singer-songwriter Serena Ryder’s new recording, Utopia, heads for neo-rhythm and blues territory.
Utopia, her sixth album, has a straight ahead rock meets R&B vibe that doesn’t take chances, but Ryder’s voice lifts it up. Her single, Electric Love is in the mould of her past hit, Stompa. The new track has a futuristic Scandinavian-type texture with big synth sounds, hard driving choruses, and mid-range power.
She is celebrated for her range, and on Utopia she’s confident and nimble with an inclination to get playful with phrasing.
Utopia has solid tracks, but something is missing. When Sanctuary comes sweeping in, it is obvious what that is. The song has a classic sentiment and is a love song in ballad form. Ryder absorbs the tracks and delivers a chilling performance that’s completely believable. Sanctuary carries the impact of the heyday of dramatic ’80s heartbreak ballads but in all the good ways. Most importantly, she shows what a soulful singer she can be.
Utopia is a modern R&B-rock record with all those hallmarks: big beat and low end with streamlined song structures. Killing Time is a soul rock update on that and the slinky groove lets Ryder pour her heart into it for a riveting performance. Following a song like that with a pop friendly formula like Ice Age is a stark contrast, but that’s what the album runs on — classic ballads and pop-R&B hybrid. Both are informed by Ryder’s charisma and prowess, but her way with the quieter songs brings out power in her performances.
–Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician who reviews the latest music releases in his column, Street Sounds, every Friday.