AV (Ann Vriend) is not a conventional blues artist. Over the course of a career discography now totalling seven albums, the Edmonton-based singer/songwriter has incorporated soul, folk and blues stylings in her work. It has been pleasing to see her accepted into the Canadian blues community though, as evidenced by her two Cobalt Music Prize wins at the Maple Blues Awards, acknowledging her songwriting talent.  

Vriend has earned a reputation as an artist and songwriter unafraid to think and work outside the box, and Everybody Matters confirms her adventurous approach. Wanting to create a stripped-down sound, she has only used three other musicians on the record, with instrumentation confined to keyboards, vocals and drums.

She plays piano, Wurlitzer, and Rhodes on the album, while the fittingly-named Doug Organ contributes on the Hammond. The sparse setting allows Vriend’s powerful voice and eloquent songwriting to shine, and the result is a richly satisfying collection of songs.

Vriend is ably abetted by her co-producer/engineer Chris Birkett, a man with a rich track record. He has worked extensively with Sinead O’Connor and Buffy Sainte-Marie (including on her Polaris Prize-winning Power In The Blood), and this studio experience recording great female voices pays dividends here.

Vriend’s vocals are both powerful and passionately soulful, occasionally reaching Aretha-level heights when needed. She travels up and down octaves with ease, never sounding strained or guilty of vocal gymnastics. She really lets loose on soulful ballad “Promises Promises” and on one of the album’s highlight tracks, “If You were Here,” a riveting duet with Jory Kinjo. The pair trade lines and harmonise on the song, one co-written with Matt Epp at a Folk Alliance conference in Memphis, and dedicated to the late great Jeff Buckley.

The title track and first single, “Everybody Matters,” is equally compelling. It is a gospel-inflected blues tune driven by an organ groove and featuring some pointed lyrics – “Everybody Matters; some a little more.” A similar cool keyboards groove fuels “Who’s Fooling Who,” a tale of two cheating lovers – “I’ve got somebody for myself tonight..I think the joke’s on you.”

As the title suggests, “Holy Roller Blues” is one of the more straight-ahead blues cuts here, with diverse keyboards complementing Vriend’s soaring vocals. “Mine, All Mine,” the second single from the album, showcases her social conscience, offering a critique of capitalism embedded in an upbeat tune featuring Motown-style backing vocals (all done by Vriend).

Other tunes dispense words of wisdom, such as “seize the day or you will blow it,” on “Don’t Wait.” Fittingly, the album closer, “Gonna Be Fine,” leaves us on a gently optimistic note – “we’re gonna be fine, let’s get away.” An escape into this superb record is highly recommended. (Kerry Doole)