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Steph Cameron Steph Cameron
Album: Daybreak Over Jackson Street
Label: At The Helm
Tracks: 11

This is the second release from Canadian singer songwriter Steph Cameron, and the first to be released internationally. Recorded by Joe Dunphy in a tiny room in Toronto's Revolution Recordings, the album features just voice, harmonica and guitar, recorded live. There are no backing musicians or multi-tracking; just an intimate performance by Cameron of her own songs.

She has a husky, bluesy voice and a good sense of syncopation, her guitar playing, whilst still evolving, is simple, clear and concise. The treatment requires her to be judged on honesty of delivery and quality of song writing. Themes explored are the classics; love, loss and betrayal, all delivered with warmth and wistful melancholy.

The effect is as if she is sitting in the corner of your room, challenging you to listen and engage, admonishing you for your life's choices and spinning yarns of small town Sasckatoon. The album opens with the evocative 'Daybreak Over Jackson Street', and the gentle anthem 'Young and Living Free'. On 'Richard', sung to a lover who betrayed her, one is struck by the feeling of guilt and failure that he must have felt, and regret at what turned out to be poor life choices.

The songs are well crafted and sung, with a feeling of early 1970's acoustic folk and blues, James Taylor or a Claire Hammill (but without the range). Earlier forms of blues and country are referenced respectfully but indirectly, as secondary sources. Fans of UK based singer songwriter Jess Morgan will love this record.

Cameron has good control of her voice, using her breathy tone and higher register well, although the latter is not the strongest. There are some smashing songs here, but overall the album lacks the fire and passion of, say Anais Mitchell, and should be considered a step on the road by a promising newcomer. And some of the songs are a little formulaic, such as 'Cocaine on the Mind' or the talking blues 'Little Blue Bird', sounding like Pete Seeger's wayward granddaughter. Nothing wrong with that of course, it's a good start.

Whilst the album is great soundtrack to a Sunday morning or as the background to a late- night conversation, it shrinks rather when listened to up close.

The album closes with guitar picking out an old timey riff, whilst Cameron's vocal float over the top. 'Peace is hard to find' she sings, gently. It's a nice arrangement of a good song that needs an angry and raw reading. Cameron's process is to draw songs down from outside, making herself the vessel, which works well in the writing (often quite mature) but not so well in the delivery.

An interesting and rewarding album, with songs that would take being covered and interpreted, from an artist who needs to step out of her comfort zone. A confident first step onto a bigger stage. One to watch.

Laura Thomas