Heidi McCurdy, "Fickle Mind" (2006)

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by Pico

Out of the vibrant music community of greater Vancouver, British Columbia, the same scene that gave the world Diana Krall and Sarah McLachlan, is another female vocalist who’s been influenced by both but has forged a style of her own. And unlike the other two, she is waiting to be discovered. Her name: Heidi McCurdy.

Heidi is a talented singer-songwriter, but behind that broad categorization, there are a lot of nuances. As a singer, Heidi possesses a sultry, soulful voice that is more than capable of turning to coy and playful when the situation requires. Heidi’s learning path has combined formal training with self-teaching and she now trains others to sing. She knows how to hit the notes right, phrases wisely and never over-emotes. She’s not trying to hit you over the head with vocal histrionics like a few of those pop divas out there; her voice is an instrument meant to sooth and seduce you in moderation.

Her songwriting draws upon a surprisingly broad palette of influences with which she paints an aural picture. Lyrically, she sticks with tried and true romantic themes and often renders it in the context of clever wordplay; it didn’t hurt that she holds BFA in Creative Writing. Listening to her music, you hear her inspiration coming from artists as diverse as Stevie Wonder, The Police, Bonnie Raitt, Erykah Badu, India Arie and Bjork. Sometimes she sounds like a present-day Laura Nyro to me. Overall, her music appeals to fans of adult contemporary, jazz-pop and neo-soul.

While making living performing diverse tasks such as teaching singing for the last 4 years, juggling single parenting and school and tutoring kids with dyslexia for a number of years, Heidi slowly built up her repertoire of originals. Over a period covering nine years, Heidi laid down ten tracks of her own compositions. Finally, about a year ago she compiled these tracks and released them on a self-distributed CD, entitled Fickle Mind.

Perhaps cobbling together an album this way means there isn’t a common theme that you get with an album that’s all recorded at once. But listeners do get tracks with distinct personalities and completely thought out ideas in the bargain. I could use the fine wine analogy, but I think you get the idea.

What is common throughout this collection, however, are thick harmonies, a gently melodic groove and sharp, never over-done production. All of which Heidi herself has had a big hand in creating. Indeed, no demo quality stuff here.

Here is how Fickle Mind breaks down:

“Wonderland Jam,” a nod to major influence Stevie Wonder, is a fun, multi-layered, wordless vocal exercise set to a hip-hop beat. This track is also 100% Heidi–conceived by her spontaneously–and shows off her abilities as a studio programmer and mixer. Since the central attraction of this show is her voice, it’s only appropriate that the album ends the same way with a reprise.

“Fickle Mind” is propelled by a bass-lead groove and Heidi’s confident vocals, and a nice short break provided by Rob Hamilton’s jazz guitar.

“Round the Bend” marries a traditional Irish melody and Kate Bush sensibility to a contemporary, mid-tempo beat.

“Planet of You” is my personal favorite. It begins with a chord progression that reminds me strongly of the intro of Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues,” followed by a snappy groove and a jazzy melody that further strengthen the connection with The Dan, or Bonnie Raitt in one of her more r&b-ish moods.

“She Laughs Freely” also evokes Kate Bush as well as fellow Vancouverite McLachlan. It’s boasts passionate mood and a deep, spiritual melody.

“Play My Game,” inspired by the artist watching her first hockey game, provides a perfect platform for her to launch into some of her clever metaphors, set against a sublime mix of bossa nova and Middle-Eastern influences. With it’s acoustic guitar-driven melody it wouldn’t be out of place at all on an India Arie record.

On “Placebo,” Heidi turns up the funk dial with a Erykah Badu vibe, which continues on with “Last Night,” a fine example of Heidi’s ability to layer her vocals over the beat just right.

“Looking Forward” works because it’s a minimally arranged tune with a Spanish flavor and a fascinating bridge. This track was so well recorded, I often forget that it was performed live!

Some of these tracks have gotten some good notice and acclaim. “Fickle Mind” won a songwriting competition, while “Placebo” earned honorable mention in another one. Heidi’s been quite a hit on emerging artists site Garageband.com, where some of these tracks garnered her multiple “track of the day”, “track of the week” and other kinds of popularly awarded honors.

If you are fortunate enough to catch the Canadian sitcom “Robson Arms” on TV, that’s her rendition of “These Boots Are Made For Walking” that has been playing on it the last couple of episodes. “Play My Game” is scheduled to get some airplay on an upcoming episode in the coming months.

There’s more about Heidi McCurdy and her music than what I can fit into this space; for the curious, there’s always her informative website. For those looking for mature, modern adult contemporary music, this could very well be the best artist they never heard of. For those record labels paying lip service to signing artistry and craft over disposable, bubblegum pop, here is your chance to put your money where your mouth is.

Track listing, with mp3 samples:

1. Wonderland Jam

2. Fickle Mind

3. Round The Bend

4. Planet Of You

5. She Laughs Freely

6. Play My Game

7. Placebo

8. Last Night

9. Looking Forward (live)

10. Wonderland Jam (reprise)

Did I get you on the bandwagon? You can order her CD here.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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