“Everyone is Someone” is the 4th album from Sheila Carabine and Amanda Walther, a pair of effervescent Canadians known as Dala, and it’s gaining traction here in the States. This is in large part due to a game changing Sunday brunch performance at the 2009 Newport Folk Festival (the historic Festival’s 50th)
Shortly after their small stage set ended, Dala performed their pop-masterpiece “Levi Blues” on the massive main stage, sandwiched between sets by Neko Case and Arlo Guthrie. It was the only unscheduled “tweener” of the weekend.
I spoke with Ms. Carabine briefly after their Folk Fest performance and then again a couple weeks later. She admitted the pair arrived in Rhode Island with “no expectations” and went on to add “…we were kind of worried that nobody would come to our show! Those feelings quickly transformed into elation, as we looked out onto a sea of new fans. It all unfolded like a fairy tale.”
That sea included fans of all ages. While the band’s new album is not a kid’s recording per se, Dala is seeing more and more families in the crowd (including my 5 and 2-year old, both of whom were singing along), and according to Ms. Carabine, the feedback from the moms has been overwhelmingly positive. After just one look and listen, the reasons for that become clear.
The relaxed beauty and grounded, humorous attitude of the twenty-something ladies undoubtedly aids their commercial appeal but Sheila Carabine remarked bluntly that the duo “have no interest in compromising [themselves] for short-term gain. It would be meaningless.” Dala, with their angelic voices, songwriting chops and grace as individuals, appear ready to stake claim to being the conscience-clearing alternative to the shiny, sexy, relatively hollow pop music world. They offer poetry over perversion, and parents need not cringe when their kids view Google Image results for this duo. The same cannot be said of some other female pop stars today.
Dala’s sound doesn’t resemble American tween pop music and that’s not surprising. They (with a big hat tip to producer and co-songwriter Mike Roth) craft classic pop music, where melody takes precedence over midriff. That theirs is an intoxicating mix of classic acoustic folk, ethereal pop and sweeping balladry is no accident. Sheila and Amanda were raised on a healthy musical diet consisting of “lots of Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan…Neil Young and Led Zeppelin”. Ms. Carabine admits she “fell in love with Paul McCartney when I was 13, and suddenly I saw music as an integral part of my identity. All I wanted to do was go online and learn the guitar tabs for every Beatles song ever written.” The web searches paid off. McCartney’s influence is undeniable. Listen to Dala harmonize on “Stand in Awe” and you will do just that.
While they honor legends, Dala also draws inspiration from 21st century sounds. I asked Ms. Carabine to play record store employee and planogram the CD rack around “Everyone is Someone”. Amidst fears that she’d “sound conceited,” she imagined Dala’s latest disc surrounded by “Simon and Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell, Fleet Foxes, Sarah McLachlan, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Tegan and Sara and The Barenaked Ladies.” That desired peer group gives clues as to why Dala’s music is proving so multi-generational.
The acoustic pop gem “Levi Blues”, the 1st single from “Everyone is Someone”, proves the perfect showcase for their alto/soprano harmonies, with ornamental tickling of the ivories added for good measure. This travelogue love song is the type of tune capable of making, and defining, a career. According to Ms. Carabine “[Levi Blues] was one of those gifts you dream of as a songwriter. We came up with the first line “I’ve been waiting for a guy like you” almost immediately, and we wrote the whole thing in less than an hour. We knew that it was special, if only because we couldn’t get it out of our heads for weeks.”
On “Horses”, the pair prove they’re able to tackle weightier subjects with as much fervor. The song was written for a young man who had so much of his life stripped away after an accident. “Horses” frames his sadness and stands as a stunning portrait of internalized grief. The track should come with a 3-tissue alert. Ms. Carabine believes “[they] captured some pretty intense emotions in the words and melody.” She goes on to say, “it is incredible to look out and see people in the audience crying when we sing that song.”
Behind a strong new album, an impressive foundation and an unwavering commitment to their craft, Dala is poised for greatness at home and in the U.S.