By Al Kaufman
Ontario's Serena Ryder won the 2008 Juno (Canada's version of the Grammy) Award for Best New Artist for Is It O.K.. Granted, Canada is home to the likes of Bryan Adams, Anne Murray, Celine Dion and Corey Hart, but Neil Young, Daniel Lanois, Feist and Leonard Cohen call the Great White North home as well, so competition (which included Suzie McNeil, the last woman eliminated from the TV show Rock Star: INXS) may have been tough; or maybe not.
Ryder will probably not net a Grammy anytime soon in the U.S., but she deserves to be known. She has rich, passionate vocals that resonate with sincerity. She comes on like a slightly softer version of Melissa Etheridge, especially when she sings lines like, "I'm not broken/You can't fix me" (from "Blown in the Wind"), or lets loose in all out rockers like "Little Bit of Red" and "What I Wanna Know."
But there's more to her than that. She demonstrates a certain sweetness and vulnerability in "Truth," and has a delicious warble to her voice in "Hiding Place." On "Sweeping the Ashes" and the title track, she even displays a Dolly Parton lilt in her vocals that adds the perfect amount of sexiness. But that doesn't even come close to "Weak in the Knees," in which she displays her vulnerability in such a way that any guy to whom she sings the song will end up with the same jellying of the legs result.
There's nothing new here. This is guitar-driven rock 'n' roll led by a powerful vocalist trying to make sense or relationships and emotions, but it's the gentler touches that really make Ryder someone to consider as a force in the future. She has already been signed by Sarah McLachlan to play in the 2010 Lilith Fair, so the future may quickly become the now.