Laila Biali is a musical force who has integrated herself into an industry of manufactured pop stars to give us a unique, quirky and beautiful sound that will delight your ears. The Canadian worked with Grammy Award winner Lara Fischer (The Rolling Stones, Luther Vandeross) as well as other acclaimed singer/songwriters Jo Lawry (Sting) and Alan Hampton (Sufjan Stevens), to create her fourth album House of Many Rooms. Designed to tell the stories of people who take up residence in the rooms of our heart, the JUNO award winner does not disappoint in this indie/pop masterpiece.
Opening with “Shadowlands,” a brass section joins with a warm piano melody to cultivate a joyful song that reminds you of a golden era in your life. Biali’s vocals are pure and clean, and they sit perfectly above the hoorah of the instrumentation. A song about hope beyond the darkness and life beyond the ordinary, it is delivered in a manner which makes you feel as though a ray of sun has just hit you in the eyes after a prolonged darkness. The addition of the Toronto Mass Choir means there is no better word to describe this song than ‘glorious.’
The quirkiness continues with “Love,” and the many facets of Biali’s voice are given the chance to cut through a softer melody. Clearly a storyteller, the tones of her voice match the varying instrumentation and rifts popping up through the song, and you will quickly get into your groove as it progresses. “Come Anything,” is an acoustic tune that will remind you of Brooke Fraser’s earlier work. Quite fragile in the brevity of the tones, the boldness of the lyrics as Laila says, “Come rain, come shine, come anything,” creates a contrast that makes the song poignant to your own personal experiences.
An electric guitar rift lifts the tone of “Little Bird,” which is otherwise an acoustic tune. Exploring the sounds of stringed instruments, the imagery of a bird is depicted, and within the vibrato of Biali’s voice we hear the flutter of its wings as it learns to fly. A snare brings consistency to the track, and Biali shows once again she is unafraid to explore the boundaries of her vocal range as she softly whispers and later soars, giving flight to the bird she sings about.
“Sparrow” is gorgeous. Opening with the words, “Your mercies are new in the morning; they come in the wind when we pray. I feel them kicking inside of me, speaking the words I can’t say,” it is akin to a hymn. Sparse in instrumentation and in vocals, the simplicity of the lyrics is driven home. The addition of strings turned electric guitar lines cloaks the seemingly biblical references, and fans of Jon Foreman will gravitate towards this exploration of faithfulness.
The familiar words of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” open “Shine,” and the ethereal nature of the night sky is communicated with the lightness of piano and violin. A lullaby that gives you the room to dream, it quiets your soul. The haunting sounds of “You,” turn into an exposition of heart break that shows off the extraordinary sounds of Biali’s voice. Deliciously quirky and oh-so-tongue in cheek as she says “I bet you feel weak, like a man who stopped trying,” the decision to make this a single highlights the indie nature of the artist.
“Upside Down” is a percussion driven ballad that develops into a fully orchestrated masterpiece, showing the swift transition in life as we go from experiencing the ordinary to having everything turned “upside down.” A saxophone adds a unique element as the song progresses, and the soulfulness and depth of Biali’s talent are highlighted.
The earnestness and purity of “Wait For Me,” is rather extraordinary. Right from the first note, we hear the desperation in the vocals as Biali delivers the plea, “Come find me.” Delicate and crafted as if the music is portraying the environment and emotions she is describing, you will be hard pressed to find a song about waiting for love more elegant than this. Following this, “Home” uses staccato to break up the classical tones of the verses, and this adds a touch of individuality to a song rich with background vocals.
Concluding with “Plainclothes Hero,” a trumpet aligns with a soft melody to deliver a spell binding song about someone given months to live. A tribute to faith, courage and love, I don’t know who this song was written for, but I marvel at the emotion within it. A fitting finish to House of Many Rooms, this release by Laila Biali & The Radiance Project is exceptional. Like a good novel, you find new elements to fall in love with upon each line, and it will carry you to a place you left long ago in your childhood.
FDRMX Eyes: Check out “You,” the latest video from Laila Biali & The Radiance Project, and enjoy the quirkiness in the storytelling elements of the clip. Watch it here.