Winnipeg, Manitoba in central Canada is not necessarily the first place most music lovers think of when looking for good blues. In fact, Manitoba’s capital city has developed a thriving and competitive blues scene over the last 30 years. This scene now stands to be put on the map at an international level with one of the brightest blues and folk talents to emerge from any city in recent years, Elessar Thiessen. A relative newcomer, Thiessen released his first full-length album called A Rainy Week in Paradise in June to critical acclaim in both Canada and abroad. From an unlikely place, this new blues talent is making headway for the Canadian blues scene and for himself.
While Thiessen’s first EP, Head, Heart, Hands was decidedly folk-tinged, A Rainy Week in Paradise exposes him as a major emerging blues talent. This is showcased best by the first single and arguably the best track, You Girl. A slow, Stevie Ray Vaughn-style blues track, You Girl features both Thiessen’s guitar skills and his smooth, natural tenor. Vocally, he is sort of a cross between Harry Connick, Jr. and Sam Smith, which makes him adaptable to all kinds of jazz, blues and soul. All three of these styles are woven into the music of the track. The guitar playing on this track rivals that of Kenny Wayne Shepherd. The composition and production are polished but emotive. Compositionally, You Girl could be one of the best blues songs released in the last ten years. You Girl also features another hidden blues gem from Winnipeg, Alexa Dirks. Known for her ability to be both subtle and passionate in her vocals, Dirks’ voice pairs perfectly with Thiessen’s.
The lead track on A Rainy Week in Paradise, Another Love Song, leans toward folk but has a rockabilly flare and sets the lyrical tone for the rest of the album. Many of the tracks are love songs, but with more of a positive bent than usually found in blues. Folk plays a role in other tracks, such as the poppy When the World Ends and the country-infused Truth. Other highlights include the title track, which incorporates a lot of extra instruments to accompany Thiessen’s usual stripped-down style, and album closer, the pretty and uplifting The Perfect Bloom.
The only odd choice, production-wise, on A Rainy Week in paradise comes in Without Him. In this track, Thiessen chooses some digital modulation for the vocals, and it is unclear why he has made this choice when he has such pitch-perfect voice. It is possible he wanted to create an echo effect but does not quite pull it off. It is subtle enough, however, that this effect choice does little to detract from what is an otherwise excellent blues track. The listener will not find him or herself too bothered by the modulation.
A Rainy Week in Paradise is not only a triumph for Elessar Thiessen himself, but for the blues and folk communities at large. That he hails from such an unlikely locale is not as important as his talent, passion and skill. Thiessen stands to put Winnipeg on the map with this polished, pop-friendly and highly emotive new album.
Review by Layla Klamt
Soundcloud.com: Elessar Thiessen – “A Rainy Week in Paradise”