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Toronto, Ontario, Canada | Established. Jan 01, 2004 | SELF | AFM

Toronto, Ontario, Canada | SELF | AFM
Established on Jan, 2004
Solo Pop




""Backseat Heroine" Review"

Canadian vocalist Emma Lee is much more than a pretty voice. Her new CD Backseat Heroine demonstrates the acrobatic ability of her vocal chords and the control she executes over the limberness and endurance of her voicing. When she sings a verse, it's never flat. She injects specially conceived accents and nuances on the syllables which emote tenderness and authenticity into the songs. Like the cliché goes, "If I could sing like her, I wouldn't be writing about it, I'd be doing it."

Dedicated to her father Lance Doty (who is recorded playing the mandolin on "Bring Back Your Love"), Backseat Heroine is produced by Lee, Marc Rogers, and Karen Kosowski who enlisted the services of a number of musicians for the recordings, including string and horn arrangements. There are Tex-Mex overtones in the slinky horns strewn along the bridge of "Not Coming By," and a soft rustling in the willowy acoustics of Christine Bougie's lap steel guitar in "Just Looking." The sullen tone of the piano keys performed by Karen Kosowski in "Phoenix" insert a bluesy tint as Lee's vocals stretch and recede creating a spiritual aria brushed by stroking strings. The effect is uplifting.

The country western trot of "Today's Another Yesterday" seems like a simple melody but Lee's vocal hooks and the vocal harmonies of Luke Doucet give the track depth. The rhythmic knolls of "Figure It Out" have an R&B texture, and the soft pop facets of "I'll Dream For You" exude a summery feel. The country folk paddling of "Bring Back Your Love" pervade a breezy atmospherics as Lee induces poignant accents on the syllables of the lyrics. "Shadow Of A Ghost" has an infectious rocking beat with a bluegrass trajectory while the pensive stride of the keys in"I Could Live With Dying Tonight" bolsters a prayer-like sound in Lee's voice.

Lee's lyrics reflect on the past, present, and future. The past is depicted in "Today's Another Yesterday" as she gleans, "The same two hearts with different beats / We're not gonna change making all the same mistakes / Today's another yesterday." The present is portrayed in "Just Looking" as she observes, "I've rolled the dice unconcerned of the consequences / I've done it twice never listening to the lessons I've learned / But with you, I'm just looking." The future is exemplified in "I Could Live With Dying Tonight" as she reflects, "You're never lost at sea / As long as you keep good company / When the wind blows I will go / But where I'll wash up, heaven knows."

Emma Lee's new recording bares herself in the lyrics and the vocal hooks she executes. With all the stylistic swagger and polish of a pop singer-songwriter, the album is unpretentious and cuts to the core of what makes Emma Lee a penetrative vocalist. - Hybrid Magazine (Denver, CO)

"****1/2 "Backseat Heroine" album review"

Emma-Lee is a singer-songwriter who hails from Toronto. Her debut album NEVER JUST A DREAM was a jazz-pop sensation getting her compared to the likes of Norah Jones, but this new release is more country meets rock with huge dollops of pop and soul, heralding a reinvention of Emma-Lee and re-evaluation of ‘sounds likes’ bringing in comparison names such as Bonnie Raitt and Adele. I had never heard of Emma-Lee before this CD dropped through my letterbox, but after just the first track I was like WOW! “Not Coming By” sizzles and crackles for most of the song before exploding into a frenzy of powerhouse vocals that grabs you by the scruff of your neck and throws you straight through the window—compelling and awe-inspiring stuff!
Emma-Lee has songwriting credits on all eleven songs and the dreamy title track leans towards the sound of Stevie Nicks, with lush arrangements and smooth clear vocals, this lady is a pleasure to listen to. “I’ll Dream For You” is very Eddi Reader, encompassing folk and pop. The piano of Karen Kosowski intros the absolutely gorgeous ballad “Phoenix” that has Emma-Lee pulling out all the emotional stops, as her ranging voice makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. Luke Doucet duets with Emma-Lee on “Today’s Another Yesterday,” she is in thoughtful mood on the life affirming “I Could Live With Dying Tonight” and is all guns blazing on the brilliant barnstormer “Shadow Of A Ghost” on which her vocals are so tremendously strong. Adele has made it to the top and Emma-Lee should be right up there with her, amazing voice. - Maverick Magazine UK

""Backseat Heroine" Album Review"

Take two scoops of Bonnie Raitt, a dash of Sheryl Crow and a table spoon of spunky female artist and you have the recipe for Toronto-based Emma-Lee. Backseat Heroine is Emma-Lee’s second album, following her surprise hit CD “Never Just A Dream”.

Emma-Lee is a lot of things, a blues/jazz/rock singer, a surprisingly powerful and subtle vocalist, an accomplished song writer and, let’s be frank, easy on the eyes. Her voice has a way of drawing in the audience, it’s both velvety and sweet, strong, but not over-used — really, it’s infectious. However, her voice is the hook, what really packs the punch are her lyrics.

Emma-Lee has a gift with poetic imagery and weaves it carefully into her music. Whether she’s talking about her place in the world, or recovery from life’s crushing moments or finding happiness, she does so with rich, colourful verse. Her song “Pheonix”, is an excellent example of her voice coaxing the listener into paying closer attention while her lyrics land one-two punch combinations. Her mournful tone beautifully frames the story of loss and rebirth into a new chapter of life.

Large portions of Backseat Heroine feature a smooth, blues sound, a mixture of soulful and rock so slow that it tangos with country. However, Emma-Lee does kick things up from time to time, shifting into a more upbeat, jazzy flavour. We get an excellent does of her faster music in “Shadow of a Ghost” (and are treated to amazingly potent vocals in the process).

It’s hard to pin down Emma-Lee. At times on this eleven track album she comes across as a worldly blues singer, other times a bit of a wild cowgirl and just when we’re getting comfortable with that thought she teases us with a touch of innocent rock goddess. Whatever label we may want to slap on Backseat Heroine, it’s not boring. It’s a spirited and exquisite gem of an album — probably the second of many to come from the talented Ms Emma-Lee. - We Love Rock-N-Pop

"CMW Live Review"

For a few moments in time on a Thursday night, Emma-Lee, the soulful, earnest, and determined vocalist and songwriter, transformed the Drake Underground into a raucous country tavern, evoking visions of people dancing on bar-tops as the crowd cheered and moved to her soaring final number.

“Shadow of a Ghost,” one of her finest pieces, is a powerful, catchy, and fully-engaging composition that has to be experienced live. Beginning as a slow, soulful, and intimate ballad, the song evolves into a fast-paced and feisty number that immediately sways even the most stoic of concert-goers.

Emma-Lee has before and continues to be genre-defying, with past jazz and pop stylings giving way to intimate and passionate pieces driven by her songwriting and stunning voice, with the occasional infusion of country and twang. “Shadow of a Ghost” expertly features both her singing range and stage presence, being fully committed and completely engaged.

The song concludes in the same fashion it begins, with the fair-haired, bright-eyed and impassioned songstress slowly reciting lyrics of sincerity. After building and building, with an energetic and talented band behind (including the prolific Karen Kosowski, co-writer on the song), the performance hits a dramatic peak, allowing the lone Emma-Lee to solemnly close it, singing, “Goodbye, goodbye mystery, you’ve lead me to believe: my only hope is me.”

There was of course much more to her captivating set as part of Canadian Music Week before leaving the audience rapt with her soaring finale. She played a few songs from her recently released album, “Backseat Heroine,” including the first track, the determined “Not Coming By,” and the lovely lilt, “I’ll Dream for You.” She instilled hope and curiosity upon the ever-growing crowd with “Just Looking,” continuing to challenge the audience, alternating slow and fast number, soulful and saturated, vulnerable and fierce.

“Figure it out,” also from her latest album, saw Emma-Lee grab a tambourine and get the crowd swaying once more, following it up with a new song, “Kiss My Face,” a love-song as it were about making out.

Emma-Lee has endured over the years, growing as a singer, songwriter, and performer, and demonstrating during Canadian Music Week that she can fit in anywhere and arrest any audience with her dulcet voice and heartfelt lyrics. - Lithium Magazine

"CMW Live Review"

I ended up at The Drake Underground almost by accident on Friday night. My intention was originally to go there to see Montreal folky soft-rockers HALF-MOON RUN, but when I mentioned this to a friend, she immediately insisted that I arrive early to catch Toronto singer/songwriter EMMA-LEE. She’s someone I trust on the music recommendation front, so I gladly complied and made my way over for EMMA-LEE’s 9PM set.

I can probably sum up this review in one word; Wow.

EMMA-LEE is a soft country artist (her guitarist even had a paisley guitar), which is usually not my genre. However, within the first 30 seconds of her set I was hooked, as was the audience. She has primarily mid-tempo simple country rock songs with familiar themes of love and loss, but they are done extremely well.

I’m not normally wooed by a pretty voice alone, but I found myself mesmerized by EMMA-LEE’s beautiful voice; the crowd was similarly enthralled. And that’s not to say that’s all she had going for her, because her backing band was absolutely superb. It wasn’t complicated stuff, but they played exactly what they needed to play, and well.

EMMA-LEE’s voice was further filled out by great harmonies from her female keyboardist, and the excellent sound quality that The Drake is known for rounded it off. Her onstage banter was also very genuine and endearing – this set was very close to perfection for her style.

This is one of my favourite things about CMW and similar festivals; you can walk into a venue with no prior knowledge of an act and be blown away. EMMA-LEE will intrigue you and have you begging for more, and if you’re looking for a great show to take a date to, look no further! - The Indie Machine


Emma-Lee is what you might call a real character.

The twenty something singer-songwriter, who grew up just north of Toronto in Markham, Ont., performs under her first name only, has side gigs as a professional photographer and commercial pop songwriter for other acts, and plans for an all-girl cover band with her musician pals called Mariah Scary. (see sidebar).

But Emma-Lee first made a public mark with her 2008 self-released debut, Never Just A Dream, a collection of sad, slow songs and chameleon-like vocals that made a big impression with some critics calling her the next Norah Jones or Fiona Apple.

"I literally wrote 10 songs and recorded an album," said Emma-Lee over a cup of lavender tea at a local Queen Street West tea shop near her Toronto home. "I was completely shocked. I was selling it off my website."

She even had "a publicity alter-ego named Dale Cole," to deal with all the press attention because she couldn't afford to hire a publicist. Later on, Bumstead Records would re-release it.

Now Emma-Lee, is back with her sophomore effort, Backseat Heroine, on a new label (eOne), with a noticeably more rocking, soulful sound that recalls '60s-'70s era females like Bobbie Gentry and Carole King.

"My brother gave me Carole King's Tapestry on vinyl, which is one of my all-time favourite albums and I think what I am striving for currently and will continue is to write those types of classic songs," she said. "And it's probably not cool. It's not the cool thing to do in music. It's just what I love about music -- is a really, really memorable, singable melody and lyrics that are simple and poignant at the same time. I want to write music that people will be able to put on in 10 years and it won't sound dated. It'll just sound like a great song."

She has described Backseat Heroine as "leaning more (towards) Stevie Nicks than Sarah Vaughan."

In fact, Emma-Lee says Fleetwood Mac's 1977 album, Rumours -- "perfectly crafted songs but really varied" -- was a good template.

"On this new album, I wrote tons and tons of music and kind of found a family that fit together to me on an album," said the singer. "The other big difference is when I wrote the first album I had done very little touring. The first album was really sleepy. It was very kind of ballady and it made it really hard to play night after night and get excited about it. And I wanted to have a set of music that would work in any situation whether it was a bar or a festival. Something that I would be excited to play and get the audience excited about everytime."

To that end, Backseat Heroine, named after a Gentry lyric ("I was friendly with producers, hanging out with the stars, I've been the backseat heroine, in a thousand different cars"), features collaborations with Canadian artists Jill Barber and Luke Doucet and American Nicole Atkins.

And her father, who died from complication relating to lung cancer last year at the age of 59, also plays mandolin on the album -- he used to play lute in The Wandering Minstrels back in the day -- and the CD is dedicated to him.

Even the trippy cover art of Backseat Heroine, a painting of Emma-Lee, was done by Michael Michael Motorcycle (you just can't make this stuff up), a painter and illustrator, to reflect a "70s, psychedelic vibe."

On the touring front, Emma-Lee is currently on an Ontario and Quebec club trek in February that wraps up March 1 (with an appearance on CTV's Canada AM Thursday morning between 8-9 a.m ET) but there are plans for a Canadian Music Week Appearance in March in Toronto and a national tour in April or May.

She also staged a series of videos, the so-called Backseat Sessions, to promote the album in which she hitchhiked in Toronto in one day last summer and played her music to strangers in their vehicles. You can see the results on YouTube or her website, emma-lee.com.

"I actually had a sign that said, 'Song for a ride,' " she said. "I was picked up in the first 10 or 15 minutes of doing it by a city councillor of East York. But the best part is, she rolls up in a convertible. So I said, 'You know what would be the best? If we actually go on one of those double decker tour bus things?' Which we actually did. And then the other strange place we did it was in the back of a rickshaw." - Toronto Sun

"Feature (2012)"

Toronto singer/songwriter Emma-Lee had significantly wearied of singing slow, sad songs by the time the touring cycle in support of her 2008 debut album, Never Just a Dream, wrapped up.

Her rather more rockin’ (albeit still kinda sad) new record, Backseat Heroine (hear it all here), might come as a slight surprise to those who haven’t kept up with her live shows over the past couple of years, then, since this one should more or less obliterate the lingering “jazz-pop chanteuse” label that’s never sat all that well with Emma-Lee herself. The ballads still make an appearance from time to time, but Backseat Heroine — which features collaborations with Jill Barber, Luke Doucet and Nicole Atkins — shares more currency with rootsy Canadiana, soulful ’70s pop and occasionally old-school R&B than any torch songs you might hear late at night at the cocktail bar.

The Star spoke to Emma-Lee in advance of Thursday night’s album-release show at Lee’s Palace about her stylistic transformation, her dogged growth as a songwriter and her shady “raver” past as an anonymous dance-music vocalist.

You wrote a lot of songs for the new album, so how did you narrow them down to this particular bunch?

I think a lot of it came from just playing the songs live. Some of them worked together and some of them didn’t. Over time playing live, some songs became pairs and others became threesomes and families and others that didn’t really fit in with the set kind of fell by the wayside and became black sheep, I guess.

Do you think you might surprise some people with Backseat Heroine?

The sound is different, yes, but the major improvement, for me, is just my ability as a writer. I never really thought that I was a jazz singer to begin with, anyway, so if there’s anyone following me from the first album who really, really thought I was a jazz singer and is disappointed that I didn’t make a jazz record, I would think to myself that they were never really listening to begin with.

You have another life as a behind-the-scenes songwriter for commercial pop acts. That doesn’t strike me as the easiest gig to come by.

It’s something you have to really want to do and seek out, especially in Toronto. It’s not like Nashville. It’s not commonplace. And it’s sad because I’ve been to Nashville and it’s an inspiring place to be as a writer. I wish we had more of a scene like that here, buildings just filled with writing rooms and people are there at nine in the morning co-writing with each other.

I actually got my start doing it with my friend Karen Kosowski, one of the people who co-produced this record with me. She used to have a solo-artist career and she’s mostly abandoned that in favour of writing for other people, and I guess that kind of opened my eyes to it . . . I’ve found a way to balance both my own music and finding an outlet for all those other genres that I really, really enjoy being a part of but aren’t prepared to mix into what I do yet.

I hear a lot of classy, classic pop from the 1970s in the new record. Is your heart in another era?

My brother actually just gave me the vinyl of Carole King’s Tapestry yesterday for my birthday and it reminded me how much I absolutely adore that record. It’s just extremely well-written, well-structured songs with memorable melodies and simple lyrics that are easy to sing along to and remember. And I feel like there’s more simplicity in my new record than there was in my last record.

I think that’s what I was trying to tap into, making music that wasn’t necessarily just for music-centric people but music that a lot more people could remember and fall in love with . . . I like music that’s a little bit weird and left-of-centre, but I also love really, really catchy pop music that makes me happy. And I want to create songs that give other people the same kind of feeling those songs give me. The other thing about the way this album was written was I really wanted to write songs that would be enjoyable from the stage. I knew I’d be playing them night after night and the first album was just too sleepy. I wasn’t excited about my own material. And this one, I look down at the set list every night and I get excited about playing these songs.

You did some anonymous vocals for electronic dance records back in the day. Are we ever going to hear Emma-Lee's voice on another drum 'n' bass or house track?

Never say never. - Toronto Star

""Backseat Heroine" Review"

Local clubs have been buzzing for some time over Toronto singer/songwriter Emma-Lee. On February 7th she'll build on that with the release of her sophomore full length album Backseat Heroine.

As a singer, Emma-Lee has the unique ability to be sultry, vulnerable, and confident, all at the same time. That comes shining through on songs like the infectious love story "I'll Dream For You". On a number such as that, you can hear elements of both Neko Case (strength, confidence) and Jenny Lewis (playful seductiveness) in her voice. She lets it all out in the studio as she belts out the country-tinged ballad "Phoenix" at the top of her lungs.

Emma-Lee's afraid to mix musical styles either. The album kicks off with "Not Coming By", where a horn flourish reinforces her commanding vocals. On the title track her deep, twangy delivery is set to the sounds of a sweeping string part.

"Figure It Out" may be the catchiest track on the record, boasting sharp funked-up pop hooks. On the other end of the spectrum we're treated to "The Pools of Tears", a song that combines a light breezy surf strum with a home-on-the-range croon, and a big band aura.

With strong songs, a smooth convincing voice, and a broad range of musical influences, I don't see any reason why Emma-Lee can't achieve the kind of breakthrough success achieved by other Canadian women, like Feist for example, in recent years. - Snob's Music

""Backseat Heroine" Review (French)"

Critique Quiconque suit de près l’actualité musicale canadienne aura entendu le nom d’Emma-Lee. Avec son album Never Just a Dream, en 2009, la jeune auteure-compositrice-interprète a conquis le cœur de plusieurs mélomanes avec un jazz-pop très contrôlé, nuancé et délicat, et une voix qui chatouille agréablement l’oreille. Trois ans plus tard, elle est de retour avec Backseat Heroine : un album beaucoup plus rythmé, amalgame de rock, pop, et country qui devrait la faire découvrir à un tout autre public. Une œuvre de qualité qui s’inscrit dans une démarche artistique libre de toutes contraintes.
Dès les premières notes de Not Coming By, dont elle a écrit paroles et musique, on se rend compte qu’Emma-Lee veut nous emmener ailleurs que sur son premier disque. Plus déterminée, voire féroce, on est loin ici des épanchements mélancoliques et jazzy de Never Just A Dream.
Avec l’aide de différents collaborateurs au niveau de l’écriture, Emma-Lee s’est prémunie d’une collection de chansons qui, de son propre aveu, n’endormiront pas les gens lors des spectacles.
Avec Nicole Atkins, qui lui a donné un bon coup de pouce pour la composition en général, elle a coécrit la pièce-titre Backseat Heroine qui, si l’on connaît un peu Atkins, est tout à fait dans l’esprit des chansons de la belle Américaine. Avec un titre annonciateur d’une certaine ironie, la ballade semi-country traite de déception amoureuse avec juste assez de détachement et d’humour pour éviter de tomber dans le pathos.
Même la pochette, signée Michael Michael Motorcycle (qui a dessiné pour Portishead, The Decemberists, Nick Cave et plusieurs autres), et qui rappelle un peu celle de Clouds de Joni Mitchell, évoque les contrastes présents sur le disque, avec une Emma-Lee entourée de fleurs, d’un scorpion papillon et d’une panthère noire.
Entourée de musiciens chevronnés, tous issus de la scène rock indie canadienne, Emma-Lee a construit un album délectable, aux sonorités riches et diverses. La réalisation, cosignée Karen Kosowski (que l’on a vue aux côtés de Sarah Slean lors de sa plus récente tournée) et Marc Rogers (bassiste pour Michael Kaeshammer, entre autres) sert bien les intérêts de la chanteuse, à la fois sauvage et faisant preuve de classe, mélangeant instrumentation rock et classique.
Plusieurs titres sont très accrocheurs et auraient leur place parmi les pièces en rotation de diverses stations de radio : I’ll Dream For You est une pièce charmante qui vous reste longtemps en tête, tandis que Figure It Out (coécrite avec Karen Kosowski) a un petit côté rétro très sympathique et un rythme terriblement entraînant. Cette pièce offre également la chance à Emma-Lee de démontrer l’étendue de ses capacités vocales, qui se sont améliorées depuis le premier album.
Today’s Another Yesterday est une composition cosignée et chantée en duo par Emma-Lee et Luke Doucet, un jeune vétéran de la scène Canadienne. Quoique mélancolique, la chanson s’avère très jolie et un beau moment de l’album.
On ne dénote pas vraiment de points négatifs à ce joli petit disque de 45 minutes. Il n’y a pas vraiment de moments faibles. Et lorsque le tout semble vouloir s’essouffler avec quelques pièces plus lentes, la chanteuse nous arrive avec Shadow of a Ghost, un rock enlevant sur lequel elle chante avec enthousiasme et énergie, d’une voix puissante et pleine d’émotions.
Pour clore le tout, Emma-Lee s’est associée avec Jill Barber, et ensemble ont cosigné I Could Live With Dying Tonight, poignante finale d’un disque d’une très grande finesse, deuxième proposition d’une artiste à l’avenir très prometteur. - Sors-Tu?

""Backseat Heroine" Review"

Backseat Heroine is the sophomore release by Toronto’s Emma-Lee and by all accounts is a major departure from her 2008 debut Never Just A Dream that was a decidedly jazz-pop record that hinted at alt-country and blues. ? ?Backseat Heroine is a different beast altogether. The jazz elements have been abandoned (with the exception of the crooner “Bring Back Your Love”) and the alt-country gets a little more face time. “Not Coming By” recalls The Cowboy Junkies’ Margo Timmins in its quiet passages but those don’t last long as the song turns into a rollicking competitor for Blue Rodeo’s less somnambulistic ‘rockers’.

“Figure It Out” would fit perfectly into a Taylor Swift playlist and effectively stomp all over it. The song has a hook a mile wide and bursts into a Motown rave-up during the middle-eight. ? ?“Pool of Tears” and “I Could Live with Dying Tonight” takes her into a k.d.lang and Patsy Cline plaintive dreaminess while “Just Looking” is a throwback to Bobby Gentry in the 1960s. There’s even a requisite alt-country duet called “Today’s Another Yesterday” featuring Luke Doucet which moves sleepily along without putting the listener into a coma. ? ?The title track tastes like Country at first listen but upon further inspection recalls Southern California’s era of female pop artists like Rita Coolidge, Maria Muldaur and specifically Linda Ronstadt. Emma-Lee mentions a Stevie Nicks approach in her bio but she’s a much better vocalist than Nicks ever was. Her vocal style is diverse and devoid of all the annoying ‘modern chick’ trappings like Sarah McLachlan’s ‘hiccup’ or Feist’s twelve-year old girl coquettishness. ? ?The entire record is incredibly well produced by Emma-Lee, Marc Rogers (LMT Connection) and Karen Kosowski and features no less than 17 guest musicians adding organic instrumentation like organ, mandolin, trumpets, flugelhorn, and authentic strings like violin and viola. ? ?Emma-Lee is a fresh new force to be reckoned with and 2012 promises to be a stellar year for her if the album is given a chance to grow on listeners. - Cashbox Canada

""Backseat Heroine" Review and Interview"

By Jason Schneider
While many singers have to undergo throat surgeries at some point, few have had to endure the ordeal twice. Yet that's precisely what Emma-Lee experienced at the beginning of her career, although it's ended up spurring the Toronto, ON singer-songwriter to greater heights. After drawing comparisons to Norah Jones and Feist with her 2008 full-length debut, Never Just A Dream, Backseat Heroine finds Emma-Lee confidently distancing herself from her jazz influences in favour of more rustic tones. Collaborating on several tracks with Asbury Park, NJ singer-songwriter Nicole Atkins has clearly given Emma-Lee's storytelling chops a boost, as evidenced by the title track, inspired by a line in a Bobbie Gentry song, and she also releases a great deal of pent-up rocking energy on "Shadow of a Ghost" and "Not Coming By." The aching ballads of the first album are still echoed on tracks such as Jill Barber co-write "I Could Live With Dying Tonight," while a duet with Luke Doucet, "Today's Another Yesterday," is a clear highpoint. Just the fact that Emma-Lee has made it this far is a testament to her fortitude, but Backseat Heroine proves that she's only just begun.

What did you want to do differently on this album?
Musically, there isn't really a trace of jazz. I'd call it a pop record, but it's a bit rock, a bit country and soulful throughout. I think my voice has also developed quite significantly; I discovered a lot of new things I could do with it in the past couple of years. Perhaps the common thread with Never Just A Dream is that it's still a bit whimsical. In my head, most of the songs are very cinematic; you can see them as much as hear them.

Was there one song that was the catalyst for this new direction?
The first song I wrote for this one was "Not Coming By." It had a darker vibe than anything from the first record and I think I followed that muse. I think my biggest goal with the new batch of songs was to write music I would have fun performing live.

You've had to overcome two throat surgeries. How have you coped with that?
Being faced with the thought of losing your voice is terrifying; it's so fragile. I have to take care of myself and it's tough because I'm often in loud bars talking over music, surrounded by tempting things that are all terrible for your voice.
(eOne) - Exclaim!

"Review: Never Just a Dream"

Nice one!! The first thing I noticed about Emma-Lee when I pressed 'play' was her distinguished, yes that's distinguished rather than distinctive, voice; mature and beautifully honed to squeeze the maximum tenderness and emotion out of her lovingly assembled songs, Emma-Lee's delivery is unlike most of her contemporaries. This girl really seems to feel the words and there's a natural sensitivity running through each and every track; Emma-Lee emotes and expresses with such confidence and worldly-wiseness that you start to think she's been looking in to your own world - nice touch!!!

Emma-Lee is actually pretty difficult to pigeonhole; she manages to bring swing in close to the blues which she then sits effortlessly against a touch of nu-country with some intelli-pop thrown in and a hint of several other genres for good measure! Her Myspace page says 'Melodramatic Popular Song / Soul / indie' which instantly made me smile coz 'melodramatic' kinda says it all really - Emma-Lee definitely tends towards the dramatic side of whatever genre she might be givin' out. Emma-Lee is quite clearly a polished and gifted performer and she certainly delivers her songs with inherent tenderness, cute breathiness and ballsy finesse.

'Never Just A Dream' is rammed full of 'big' songs that have been lovingly crafted and sensitively performed - sure there are a couple of stand-out tracks but it would be totally unfair to highlight them coz everyone's taste is different and this is very much a case of 'horses for courses' - everyone will find their own favourites over time but, believe me, it's hard to choose!! They say cream rises to the top but as far as I can tell it's all cream! As I listen I am being slowly but surely drawn into Emma-Lee's sensuous world; she's weaving a magic that's damn intoxicating and the more I listen, the more I'm hooked. Although a totally different musical experience, Emma-Lee reminds me somewhat of Janis Joplin because she puts so much of herself into every second of every song but where Joplin took her voice to the edge of reason, Emma-Lee manages to hold it all nicely in check but still gets the emotion out and really lives the songs!

'Never Just A Dream' by Toronto songstress Emma-Lee is quality and class - an emotionally charged journey, a sensitively portrayed trip into hearts and minds - her songs could be about you or me, the emotions within are real, near tangible, you'll feel them too, you've been there! Classy stuff this from Emma-Lee - 'Never Just A Dream' is a piece of gold at a time when real jewels are hard to find. - http://www.toxicpete.co.uk/

"4/4 STAR REVIEW from Toronto Star"

Toronto singer Emma-Lee, 25, is blessed with a delicate yet potent sound that harkens to kd lang and Madeleine Peyroux. Her brand of ethereal pop has doo-wop, country and blues accents bolstered by handclaps, folky guitar and cat-and-mouse strings. And she's a top-shelf songwriter, serving up tunes that explore all things romantic � jealousy, rebounding, May-December pairings � with Rickie Lee Jones honesty, Amy Winehouse sauciness and rapper-slick immortality. The lyrics aren't all easily parsed, but unforgettable lines include: "it's hard to love a girl wearing sorrow" ("Bruise Easy") and "lips like clockwork `cause he's kissed a lot of flowers" ("Older Man"). She's destined for big things. The nominee for Best Female Artist and Best Jazz Artist (by very loose definition) at Thursday's Toronto's Independent Music Awards performs at her CD launch at Revival Aug. 7. Top Track: There isn't a subpar one. - Ashante Infantry - The Toronto Star

"Review: Never Just a Dream"

What grabs you first about Toronto songstress Emma-Lee’s debut full-length album Never Just a Dream? The dulcet tones of her voice and the mellow vibe, for starters. But what will keep you listening is the thoughtful, compelling lyrics coupled with some nifty melodic ideas and the slight edge to her voice that keeps you guessing – will she or won’t she?

This ability to sing on the razor’s edge of stability (of tone, vibe and rhythm) is a true talent, and something for which Emma-Lee has a bit of a knack. Fans of Norah Jones and her ilk will appreciate the sweetness and lyricism of this album, but will soon find themselves sucked deeper in by modern lyrics set to wicked grooves. You may find yourself dancing around your living room – slow dancing (with a real live partner or a broom, your choice) to the leisurely tracks, and bopping your head and shimmying your hips to the upbeat songs. - ShowbizMonkeys.com

"Now Magazine Review"

Toronto singer/songwriter Emma-Lee mines that 70s AM radio jazz pop feel that Feist has had such massive success with, but manages to bring enough of her own personality to the recipe to avoid dismissive comparisons. She's got a strong, emotive voice, and the production is lush and natural-sounding.

As a songwriter, Emma-Lee has a lot of potential, giving clever little lyrical twists to songs that initially seem completely conventional. It's that subtle edginess that she needs to embrace more. Lots of jazzy vocalists can sing nice, comfortable music, but not many play with the conventions creatively, which is where she shines.

- Benjamin Boles - NOW Magazine

"Disc of the week! ***1/2 Globe & Mail"

It would have to be startling ordeal, if you were a singer, to have surgery on your instrument. You would seek assurances, or some fake placating at least, prior to going under. "Doc, will I be able to sing again?" would be a valid question. But was it the chloroform or a trick of the light, or was that a twinkle in the sawbones's eye you noticed just before drifting off?

Never Just a Dream, is the wondrous full-length debut from Emma-Lee, a sensuous singer-songwriter from Toronto who underwent not one, but two, career-imperilling operations - one for a growth on her thyroid gland, the other for an unrelated vocal chord polyp - before recording a 10-song collection that remembers seventies AM radio as jazzier and plusher than it actually was.

Now, I'm no doctor and I don't play one on TV. But, as far as her voice is concerned, it appears everything turned out fine. Only fine? Okay, spectacular. Spectacular, that's it? All right, they sprinkled gold dust inside her throat, implanted strands of silk and coated it all with gleaming honey. The medical team, with the input of chanteuses k.d. lang and Jolie Holland, worked on Emma-Lee like she was Pavarotti, Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner combined. The surgeries, suffice to say, were a success.

But then there is the matter of using the voice in a sublime manner, on material worthy of such a tool. Here Emma-Lee thrives. The title track has a hazy, waltzing warmth, with heavenly background vocals - imagine the Chordettes nodding on heroin. The singing is stately.

That Sinking Feeling adds strings, lithe guitars, a bossa-nova beat and clapping. The album addresses heartbreak, but not necessarily Emma-Lee's own. Here she offers a shoulder and something more: "That sinking feeling doesn't mean you to have swim alone."

Things are more playful on Jealousy, a jaunty piano-tinkler that advises to "stop treating lovers like goddamn possessions."

The aching vocal jazz of Flow begins a three-part suite that follows a romantic breakup's phases. Isn't it Obvious, with a Hawaiian lilt and k.d.-style phrasing, has the former lovers realizing that friendship is out of the question. Mr. Buttonlip is a big-band swinging kiss-off, where a strong silent type is told to hit the road.

I'm a fan of Emma-Lee's lyrical work. The dramatic country soul of An Older Man, which emboldens better than Viagra, says a man who's been around has "lips like clockwork, because he's kissed a lot of flowers."

Clearly, Never Just a Dream, is an auspicious beginning. The languid Where You Want to Be promises more to come from a singer who is also a professional photographer (specializing in self-portraits). "I won't settle, no not a little bit," Emma-Lee sings, "you don't get me, I'm not the type to quit." Evidently so.

- Brad Wheeler - The Globe & Mail

"iTunes Canada Review"

"Emma-Lee's debut, Never Just a Dream, sounds like it could have been born somewhere between San Antonio, Texas and Sao Paulo, Brazil. It's a big, luscious album with a touch of Patsy Cline's country heartbreak set against Astrud Gilberto's ease-and-flow bossa nova. We love it." - iTunes Canada

"No Depression Magazine"

It’s only May and it may be a little too early to call it, but Never Just a Dream is one of the most exciting albums of the year so far, and Emma-Lee, the twenty-five year old singer behind its creation has the most beautiful voice I have heard in recent memory.

Considering the plethora of rootsy folk singing young women who seem to have been popping out of the woodwork lately, that’s quite a statement. Perhaps the public is growing tired of the Britney Spears and Madonnas of the world who continue to equate marketing their sexuality as being synonymous with liberation.

Thankfully, there has been a recent backlash and the indie scene is currently awash with great new music being created by younger female artists like Neko Case, Jolie Holland and Po’Girl. While they’ve hardly redefined the boundaries of music, these artists have helped create the kind of fertile ground necessary for new and daring voices to emerge from. Whatever the alchemy of events that allowed for the creation of Never Just a Dream, Emma-Lee’s debut release, it should take listeners only one spin of this ten song cycle to release that she is no flash in the pan, or here today and gone tomorrow dabbler.

Blessed with a voice that sounds powerful and fragile at the same time, Emma-Lee displays a subtlety and nuance in her phrasing that one usually associates with an older and more experienced singer. On every occasion Emma-Lee’s voice and intuitive understanding of musical dynamics rise to the challenge of the sophisticated arrangements she sings over. Swinging between jazz, blues, country and folk she displays a mastery of each idiom that is truly breath-taking. Sometimes as on “That Sinking Feeling” she seems to be channeling Dusty Springfield at her best, while at other times she shows off a jazzy scat that rivals Joni Mitchell at her most unfettered. On “Isn’t it Obvious” – one of the disc’s most interesting cuts – she exploits a range and ability to dive around the notes that would make kd lang jealous – while opting for a quirky phrasing that is reminiscent of Rickie Lee Jones’ recent experimental jazz material.

In the end, all of these comparisons fail to describe the experience of listening to Never Just a Dream. Like Tracy Chapman’s 1988 debut, it is an album so full of ideas and potential that it is hard to know how to properly frame a description of its contents. It is a collection of songs that is far more than the sum of its influences. Emma-Lee is just starting out on her career, yet one can hear that she is clearly charting an exciting musical course that is all her own. Never Just a Dream is an epic debut that sounds better with every listen. Emma-Lee may be the voice to remember from 2009. Highly recommended. - NoDepression.com

"Never Just a Dream Review"

After too often hearing what so many major label producers consider to be a “retro” sound, it’s nice to hear someone who actually gets it right. And on the first try, too. Toronto-based singer/songwriter Emma-Lee is a torch singer in the very best sense of the word, effortlessly shifting between country, big band jazz, bossa nova, and 50s pop in her debut CD, Never Just a Dream. It appears to have beamed in from some alternate dimension where the rock n’ roll revolution never happened, and we’re glad it did. The centrepiece of this CD is Emma-Lee’s stunning voice, which conjures Patsy Cline, Norah Jones, Brenda Lee (hmm) and k.d. lang. Most remarkably for a younger performer, she knows when to let loose with the vocal fireworks and when to hold back, slowly bending those blue notes into line. Her harmonizing on the 50’s ballad/bossa nova crossover ‘Isn’t It Obvious’ is a show-stopper, and her ability to hold back until a critical moment really comes into play on her ode to May-December romance, ‘An Older Man’. Fans of slow-burning ballads and music with an old soul will find a lot to like in Emma-Lee’s Never Just a Dream. A stunning debut; let’s hope we hear more from her. - SceneandHeard.ca

"Whole Note Magazine Review"

Emma-Lee is the talk of Toronto with her stunning debut "Never Just a Dream", and rightly so - the girl's got it all. Her gorgeous vocals, in part influenced - as are so many singers these days by Feist - strike you immediately. But her songwriting is the real star. Varying tempos, feels and styles ranging from pop, blues, jazz and alt-country are at play, and personal introspective lyrics populate the fully-realized tunes. All 10 tracks are strong, but the ones I can't seem to get out of my head are the beautiful, open-wound, break-up anthem Flow, the angry yet breezy That Sinking Feeling with real strings (!) and glockenspiel (!) and Until We Meet Again with its contrast of shimmery strings and driving rhythm. The Brazilian-influenced guitar and percussion married to lap steel guitar (courtesy of Christine Bougie) on Isn't it Obvious make for a sort of Blue Rodeo goes to Rio trip. The agile core band - guitarist Devrim Eldelekli, acoustic bassist Steve Gotlib, drummer Kevin Mendes and piano player Tyler Yarema - stick-handle the style shifts with skill and sensitivity. - Whole Note

"Review: Never Just a Dream"

A clever songwriter with a classically divine voice Toronto, Canada’s Emma-Lee spins songs of mass seduction on her debut album, Never Just A Dream. Built from ambivalent tales of heartbreak and redemption that everyone who has loved has gone through, the songs are like sonic submersibles, delving their way into the parts of you that make you tick. The catchy lyrics and osmotic melodies follow you and before you know it you’re bopping right along.

The luscious landscape of "That Sinking Feeling" sets the proper mood for what you're going to get; a genre-defying balance of songs that are flawlessly produced to compliment one of Canada's best-undiscovered secrets: Emma-Lee's voice.

"Jealousy" is a gamboling good time of a "grow up already" tune that serves nicely as a dance-by-yourself-because-it-feels-good-to-be-alive anthem with lyrics such as, "If we could all make the same confessions/Stop treating lovers like god damn possessions/'Cause people do what people want to anyways."The juxtaposition might come with "Isn't It Obvious", a beautifully honest song about the perils of being stuck in a place that you know isn’t right, but you can't quite—either by choice or circumstance—get away from.

"Mr. Buttonlip" may not be as blunt as Alanis Morissette's "You Outta Know" with its happy-go-lucky toe-tapping big band sound, but this a big fat "F' off!' proclamation if ever there was one, and never has a smooth-as-silk voice stung so severely as when Emma-Lee sings, "So why do you stick around just to stay in the picture?/This album closed when you hit the road." Next up is the bluesy, "An Older Man", a super-sexy coming-into-their-sexual-own tale that will have a legion of boys chalking up their driver’s licenses to try and disguise themselves as men when they hear a verse like, "Lips like clockwork 'cause he’s kissed a lot of flowers."

The minimalism of the piano-driven epic "Flow" recalls the sparse serenades of Lionel Richie's best ballads when he ruled the contemporary airwaves. Like many of the other songs on Never Just A Dream the person in "Flow" is someone who is waiting for a crescendo that’s never going to come; only in terms of the song, as it reaches its crescendo and Emma-Lee belts out, "Just let me go" it’s just as cathartic as it is stunning.

At 25-years old, in 42-minutes, on her debut album no less, Emma-Lee accomplishes what most of her forbearers forgot long ago: that you don’t sit down to only watch certain scenes in a movie, so why should you do it with an album? As listeners we’re just as guilty, in this single-driven society we tend to sacrifice quantity for quasi-quality, forgoing the experience of experiencing an album for the convenience of the chopping block to fill our iPod playlists. With Never Just A Dream Emma-Lee spares us the shears, offering instead this top-to-bottom, no-fillers testimonial of someone, who through thick and thin, is learning to feel comfortable in their own skin. Never Just A Dream not only belongs in the discussion for the Best Debut Album of the Year, it can hold its own against the Tidals, Little Earthquakes, and whatever-other-notable-debut you want to compare it to. It's that good.

If there's one thing to hold against Emma-Lee it’s that she may have mislead you. On "Bruise Easy" she sings, "And it’s hard to love a girl wearing sorrow." That’s a lie; it’s hard not to love a girl who wears it so well. Emma-Lee isn’t a name that you’re going to remember. She’s a singer you’ll never forget. - Oxyfication.net

"Emma-Lee: ‘In my heart of hearts, I’m still chasing the dream’"

For Emma-Lee, whose acclaimed debut album in 2008 was the sultry Never Just a Dream, music is all about visions and the achievement of goals. Now working on her third album, the Toronto singer-songwriter has settled into a month-long residency at the Cameron House, which is where we heard new tunes and where we caught up with her.

You’re previewing new songs at the Cameron, and I know you’ve written a song with Jill Barber. She’s an artist who’s found a niche for herself. Are you looking for a niche?
I wish I was the type of artist who could settle on one genre. My albums have been a bit all over the map, and over the last two years I’ve been going through an indecisive period with my songwriting and what I want my next album to be. But I’m definitely homing in on making a classic soul-pop record. My voice has gotten stronger over the years. It’s bigger, and it’s really fun for me to sing with that voice.

Sounds like it. A couple of the new songs you played have that arena-sized Adele-ballad thing. But the single that everyone is talking about is What Would Tom Petty Do?, which has more of a country-rock feel to it.
We wrote that two years ago. It’s just what I was loving at the time. We didn’t know what we were going to do with it, but when I sang it at shows there was an immediate sing-along response to it. It just kind of grew from there.

The song is fun, using his song titles for your lyrics, and you praise him over Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan. Can you talk about your fandom of Tom Petty?
I remember watching Last Dance With Mary Jane on MuchMusic, back when MuchMusic was music. More recently, I saw his documentary Runnin’ Down a Dream. I was just floored with his story, and the magic of “Oh, you know, we went to L.A. and we went into a phone booth and started looking up record companies and called them and signed a deal.” That doesn’t happen any more.

Beyond his songs, is there something else about Tom Petty that you admire?
It’s him being knowledgeable about his business. The songs have always been there, but it’s his character of sticking to his guns and being true to what he believes in. It’s a simple mission, but I think it’s one we can all get behind.

What about running down the dream for you? Are you as starry-eyed as you once were?
I’m not. I’ve grown up. I’ve seen the evolution of other artists’ careers as well as my own. I’ve seen people who are just so devastatingly talented not making it. It’s a real thing that happens all the time. That said, in my heart of hearts, I’m still chasing the dream.

Emma-Lee plays the Cameron House (408 Queen St. W., Toronto), Wednesdays in August, 6 to 8 p.m. PWYC. - Brad Wheeler | Globe and Mail


Emma-Lee at the Horseshoe Tavern in her hometown of Toronto Sunday night. The Julian Taylor Band headlined.

Singer/songwriter Emma-Lee may be best known for her tribute to the man she calls her biggest inspiration, “What Would Tom Petty Do?” The 2014 single is peppered with Petty quotes, and comes with a hook-laden chorus: “Yeah, Bob Dylan‘s cool/But what would Tom Petty do?”

Video – Emma Lee, “What Would Tom Petty Do?”

Previous to that tune, Emma-Lee recorded and released two albums, 2008’s Never Just a Dream and 2012’s Backseat Heroine.

Jess had this to say about the Sunday night’s show, when both acts played to a full house.

“When Emma-Lee stepped on with a full band and wearing a cropped red leather jacket, a long fringe skirt and newly black dyed hair there was no doubt we were about to witness her rock n’ roll side. With co-writer and keyboardist Karen Kosowski at her side, she played a rock-blues set, often donning an electric guitar.

“Her new material showcased how amazingly accomplished a singer and songwriter she is, and how she can command a stage in an instant no matter the setting.

“Julian Taylor followed with a band that included two horn players. Along with some newer material and older songs, he did ‘Take Me To the River’. The soul classic featured his band soloing throughout the song. After what was close to a two-hour-long set, the crowd was still buzzing when the Julian Taylor Band left the stage, and demanded not one, but two encores.

“The two acts couldn’t have been better paired. Both brought arena-size energy to the small tavern with a sound that could have filled a venue five times the size.”

More Emma-Lee photos: - The Snipe | Jess Desaulniers-Lea

"Super-catchy pop-country tune asks ‘What Would Tom Petty Do?’"

Pop singers can be just as obsessive as anyone else. Look no further than Billy Ocean (“Get out of my dreams, and into my car”) or Sting (“Every breath you take … I’ll be watching you”). Pretty creepy, right?

So here comes the Canadian songbird Emma-Lee, who is not shy with her hyphens or her fixations. Her super-catchy new pop-country tune is What Would Tom Petty Do?, in which the singer seeks guidance from the Free Fallin’ Floridian. The song brashly appropriates Petty song titles and favourably stacks the man up against Messieurs Lennon, Jagger and Dylan.

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According to the Hollywood-filmed video, Emma-Lee is running down a dream of a co-write with her idol. The odds are against her; Petty’s preference for an American Girl is well known.

And as for Emma-Lee’s titular question, well, all we can say is that we know what Tom Petty wouldn’t do, which is to write a song called What Would Bob Dylan Do? - Brad Wheeler | Globe and Mail

"Tom Petty taking it all in stride ahead of ‘Hypnotic Eye’ release"

Turns out Tom Petty was right: The Waiting REALLY is the hardest part.

"I'm trying to be patient," says Petty in a Canadian newspaper exclusive with QMI Agency on fans finally getting to hear his latest Heartbreakers album, Hypnotic Eye, on Tuesday -- their first since 2010's Mojo.

"It's nervous making."

Hard to believe a guy who has sold more than 60 million albums over the last 38 years, been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and played with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne in the late '80s supergroup The Traveling Wilburys, would still feel that way after all this time.

For me, the nervous-making is sitting by the phone waiting for the elusive 63-year-old Petty to call in our first-ever chat.

Finally, the phone rings after what seems like an eternity -- but in reality is only a few minutes late after the scheduled time -- and a familiar-sounding drawl says: "Jane Stevenson? This is Tom Petty."

"You sound so relaxed," I say.

"I have my moments," he responds drily.

And so it goes for the next half-hour as the funny and laid-back singer-songwriter-guitar slinger holds forth from his longtime home base of Malibu, Calif.

"I've never tweeted and I don't own a cellphone," says Petty, who admits he does own a computer in the age of social media. "My wife has a cellphone. I like the thought of being able to escape. People say, 'I e-mailed you and you didn't e-mail me back.' And I say, 'Well I haven't looked at it in a week.' I like to TALK to people."

No kidding.

It feels like I'm talking to an old friend whose songs I've been listening to since the mid-'70s, beginning with his 1976 debut album Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, which first made waves in England before his North American breakthrough.

The beginning is especially significant now given the rock-oriented Hypnotic Eye is regarded as a return to the sound of the band's first two albums, including 1978's You're Gonna Get It!

Petty, guitarist Mike Campbell and Ryan Ulyate co-produced Hypnotic Eye.

New tunes range from the political (American Dream Plan B, Power Drunk and Burnt Out Town) to the personal (Fault Lines, Forgotten Man, Full Grown Boy, U Get Me High, Sins of My Youth) to the observational (Shadow People).

"I am excited about it," says Petty who worked on Hypnotic Eye for three years at his home studio in Malibu, and at the Hearbreakers' L.A. rehearsal space, the Clubhouse.

"It took me a long time to make; and the band sounds great."

He's even talking about making another Mudcrutch -- the pre-Heartbreakers band featuring Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench -- album following their 2008 self-titled debut.

"I think that last record we did was great."

Yes, Petty is the Heartbreakers' undisputed frontman and main songwriter (only one Hypnotic Eye song, Fault Lines, was co-written with Campbell) but he likens his role more to that of a gangleader.

"It is like being in a gang," he says. "They've known me from before when I was just Tommy. Not Tom Petty. I NEVER wanted to be up front. I liked being in the background. I had to learn it."

Still, it seems preordained Petty would become a music star given the Gainesville, Fla.-born musician met Elvis Presley when he was just 10 years old.

The year was 1961 and Petty's uncle was working on the set of Presley's 1962 film Follow That Dream in nearby Ocala and invited the young boy down.

"This was WAY before the Vegas years," says Petty. "He made a major impression."

Out when the Wham-O slingshot traded for a collection of Elvis 45s, which he still treasures to this day as host of the popular SiriusXM satellite radio program Tom Petty's Buried Treasure (now in its eighth season).

"I just got all the Elvis 45s," he says proudly. "It took me a long time."

In fact, he has a massive vinyl collection, still loves holding record covers in his hands and looking at them while listening to what he still considers the superior sound in terms of format.

"I'm a collector," says Petty. But says there's "only a couple hundred," vinyl records he really cherishes.

Not surprisingly, it was the Beatles' TV appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show 50 years ago that sealed the music deal for him when he was a kid.

"It was like a bolt of lightning coming out of the sky. I mean, what else can you say?" says Petty. "You won't meet one musician my age who wasn't influenced (by them)."

And while he says it's harder for rock 'n' roll to find a place to be heard in 2014, he's encouraged by new rock acts like Jack White and The Black Keys.

"I recently got to spend time with Jack and he's a bright young man," says Petty. "I like the Black Keys, too. I'm glad they've discovered the blues because, really, it's the foundation."

Not so encouraging is the advent of shows such as American Idol.

"If someone won a game show to become a pop star in my day, we would have laughed," says Petty, who also bemoans the "dumbing down" of culture via reality TV shows such as Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

"I live in Malibu so I'm far away from it, but you can't escape it," he says.

He recognizes that everyone's filming everyone now -- thus partly inspiring the new album title Hypnotic Eye -- including the audiences who film him at his concerts, but he's still not thrilled about it.

"If you're filming it, you're not really there," sums up Petty. "I mean, why bother? It's going to be on YouTube anyway."

Petty and the Heartbreakers will be heading out on the road for a two-month North American tour in support of Hypnotic Eye that brings them to arenas in six Canadian cities in mid-to-late August with Steve Winwood opening.

Every ticket purchased will include a copy of Hypnotic Eye.

"We're coming!" he says excitedly of crossing the border. "Canadians are great music fans. We always enjoy coming there."

But the major difference he notices between Canadians and Americans might surprise you.

"Canadians are less fat," says Petty bluntly. "Americans are becoming side-show fat. Maybe Canadians have better information. Maybe your government is better. Maybe there isn't as much fast food greed in Canada. That word, 'greed,' sums up all that is wrong with America."

On American Dream Plan B, Petty sings of the shrinking middle class: "Well my mama's so sad, daddy's just mad, 'Cause I ain't gonna have the chance he had."

"Plan A isn't working," says Petty of writing the song. "I don't mean to sound intellectual about it. I'm not an intellectual. I count on my friends to be smart."

Hitting the road after 2013 theatre residencies in L.A. and New York City means eating right and training a bit like an athlete, says Petty. "Well, I'm 63 now. I could complain about it, but in truth once I'm doing it, it feels like home. I've been doing it so long. The two hours on stage are great, it's the other 22 hours that can be problematic."

In his downtime, he says he often visits record stores on the road.

So to answer the musical question recently put forth by Petty-obsessed Toronto singer-songwriter Emma-Lee in her 2014 ode to him, What Would Tom Petty Do?, he jokes: "I often wonder that myself."

"Someone showed (the video) to me on a cellphone. I thought it was very sweet."

At this point, over a half-hour has passed and I tell Petty I was only given 30 minutes so I had better let him go.

"I guess," he responds slowly and almost reluctantly.

"I've got some low dusting to do," he jokes, before adding: "I'm kidding."



One of my favourite Tom Petty songs is Stop Draggin' My Heart Around, a duet with Fleetwood Mac's Stevie Nicks, the first single from her 1981 solo debut, Bella Donna.

It was written by Petty and Mike Campbell as a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers song, but producer Jimmy Iovine, who was also working for Stevie Nicks at the time, arranged for her to sing on it. (The original version without Nicks appears on the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' 1995 box set Playback.)

Petty says it was hard to sum up their friendship.

"Have you got a couple of hours? She's a good friend. I've know her since 1978 and she's insisted on being in my life (laughs). Some of my best musical memories of her are sitting on the couch and just playing the guitar while she sings."

Sadly, there's no new Nicks duets on Petty and the Heartbreakers new album, Hypnotic Eye: "There are no girls in the Heartbeakers," he says.

Here are four more Petty greats:


The first single from Petty and the Heartbreakers' first album in 1976 was a moody, sexy song with a killer guitar intro that they liked in England, but didn't catch on initially on this side of the pond until it was re-released in 1978.

Don't Do Me Like That

1979's Damn The Torpedoes' first single was actually written in the early '70s in the pre-Heartbreakers band Mudcrutch. Petty almost gave it to the J. Geils Band, but was dissuaded by Iovine not to do it.

I Won't Back Down

A defiant song, released as the first single from Petty's first solo album, 1989's Full Moon Fever, it was made in the middle of his Traveling Wilburys phase with a video that featured two Beatles -- George Harrison on guitar and Ringo Starr on drums. (Phil Jones handles the drumming on the actual recording.)

Free Fallin' -- Petty's longest charting single (also from Full Moon Fever) is about leaving a childhood sweetheart in Florida in search of stardom in California. You can hear the pain in his voice on the chorus.

American Girl

The second single from Petty and the Heartbreakers' debut album has a slow-building intro, twin jangly guitars -- a homage to the Byrds' Roger McGuinn's 12-string -- and urgency that makes it a live favourite. - Jane Stevenson | Toronto Sun

"Roots Song of the Week: Emma-Lee, What Would Tom Petty Do?"

I was in the shower this morning…

Now that that involuntary shudder has subsided, let me continue. I was in the shower this morning, and out of Radio 2 came this terrific little slice of fandom, power pop, and breezy lyrical play.

Emma-Lee, a Toronto-based singer with whom I’ve only very passing familiarity (I have her first album…somewhere, and promise to make an attempt to locate it tonight) has released a joyously-obvious song intended, it is apparent, to attract the attention of her musician crush, Tom Petty.

She is unabashed in her intent, with her Maple Music page proclaiming:

Together, she says, the single and video are her best shot at attaining her ultimate goal of writing a song with the artist who has inspired her most.

“When it comes to my musical heroes it’s hard to choose just one who kinda sums it all up for me,” Emma-Lee says. “Some musicians I like for their voice, some for the way they play guitar, or the way they make me feel when I go to a concert. But when I think of songwriters, there is one person in particular who tops the list. That person is Tom Petty.”

I have great admiration for a fan who has the talent to be so ballsy.

The fact that the song- comprised almost entirely of Tom Petty lyrics- holds together and holds up is essential. Anyone can pen a love note to a performer they admire, and some darn good ones have been done: Nick Lowe’s “Bay City Rollers We Love You,” (two different links, the first with Nick reminiscing, and yes, I realize NL wasn’t being genuine in his tartan-love), The Steel Town Project’s “Leather and Bass (The Night Suzi Quatro Rocked Out ‘Can the Can’)”, and “Guy Clark” from Eric Burton, a clip of which can be found here ; the best that comes to mind might be Rodney Crowell’s “I Walk the Line (Revisited.)” (Two different links, a live performance (without Johnny Cash) and a lyric video).

As the previous four example prove, it takes some doing- while I personally love each of these songs, others may not find them as appealing. One needs to balance the ‘Aw, geez- ain’t they great’ with sufficient nuggets of insight to appeal to other fans, while creating something that bears repeated listening. It is a little sub-genre I quite appreciate, and one day I’ll find the list I started five or seven years back and will start assembling a couple mix CDs of them. (Which will include Tom Russell’s “The Death of Jimmy Martin”, Peter Rowan’s “A Doc Watson Morning,” and Niall Toner’s “Master’s Resting Place.”)

Emma-Lee, and her co-writers, have created a punchy little calling card. It isn’t terribly rootsy, but it is catchy and a lot of fun. You can tell she has gone ‘all-in’ on this project, having a ‘cover’ for the song that looks distinctly familiar, and a video that is chock o’ block with Petty touchstones. - Fervor Coulee- roots music opinion

"Video of the Moment: What Would Tom Petty Do?"

Toronto singer/songwriter Emma-Lee has long been held in high regard by her peers and insiders on the T.O. scene. Her eclectic second album, 2012's Backseat Heroine, helped spread the word wider, with songs and clips from it grabbing airplay on CBC, CMT and MuchMoreMusic, and the record winning as Best Adult Contemporary Album at the Independent Music Awards. A buzz is now being generated via her recently-released single and video "What Would Tom Petty Do?"

Yes, it is something of a novelty song, but it is a very well-constructed and highly entertaining one. The inspiration for the song, according to her camp, dates back to a group writing session in Los Angeles. "As Emma-Lee and her Canadian collaborators Karen Kosowski and Justin Gray searched for a spark to get their creative juices flowing, somebody asked 'what would Tom Petty do?' The song came together almost immediately as a charming and clever tribute to the man and his music."

With the aid of a Kapipal crowd-funding campaign, Emma-Lee recorded the track in Toronto with ace producer Gavin Brown (Metric, Billy Talent), then flew back to L.A. to shoot the eye-catching video. In a neat twist, she reprises some scenes from earlier Petty videos and gets to lie down on his Walk of Fame plaque. Shots of the blonde singer cruising L.A. in a red convertible certainly fit the archetypal City of Angels vibe too. The song itself has the feel of a TP tune and it weaves titles of Petty classics into the lyrics (sample: "I've been learning to fly into the great wide open").

Emma-Lee's affection for Petty and his work runs deep. "When it comes to my musical heroes it's hard to choose just one who kinda sums it all up for me," Emma-Lee says. "But when I think of songwriters, there is one person in particular who tops the list. That person is Tom Petty." If you want to hear Emma-Lee do a legit cover of a Petty classic, check out her fine version of "I Won't Back Down".

She's thrilled that news of the song has reached Petty. He recently told Rolling Stone just that, saying "I don't know what Tom Petty would do. But thanks for asking." We wish Emma-Lee luck in Runnin' Down A Dream she has - getting to write a song with the man himself!

Kerry Doole - NME | Kerry Doole


Single "Worst Enemy" - 2016

Single "All The Way - 2015

Full Length "Backseat Heroine" - February 7th, 2012
Full Length "Never Just a Dream" - March 3rd, 2009



"Toronto's Best Female Vocalist" - Winner of NOW Magazine's Readers Poll 2014/2015

"Compelling and awe-inspiring. Adele has made it to the top and Emma-Lee should be right up there with her. Amazing voice."
- Maverick Magazine UK (****1/2 out of 5)

"A top shelf songwriter. She's destined for big things."
- The Toronto Star **** (4/4)

"The most beautiful voice I have heard in recent memory."
- No Depression Magazine

"Im a fan of Emma-Lees lyrical work. But then there is the matter of using the voice in a sublime manner, on material worthy of such a tool. Here Emma-Lee thrives."
- The Globe & Mail (***1/2 out of 4)

"Emma-Lee's new recording bares herself in the lyrics and the vocal hooks she executes. With all the stylistic swagger and polish of a pop singer-songwriter, the album is unpretentious and cuts to the core of what makes Emma-Lee a penetrative vocalist."
- Hybrid Magazine

Toronto-born singer & songwriter Emma-Lee is enjoying her first taste of radio success with her latest single “Worst Enemy” reaching #24 Hot AC & #18 AC on the Canadian Mediabase charts. With a driving, old-school backbeat, sparkling strings, dreamy synths and infectious hooks joining together to support Emma-Lee’s powerhouse vocals, “Worst Enemy” is an anthem for anyone who’s ever looked squarely in the mirror and finally admitted that the greatest obstacle to reaching their dreams was staring right back at them. The introspective single serves to deliver a universal message – be yourself and make no apologies.

Produced by Karen Kosowski, with whom the singer had previously worked on her 2012 critically acclaimed release “Backseat Heroine”, and co-written by highly praised Canadian artist Royal Wood, “Worst Enemy” is a departure from Emma-Lee’s past musical fashion, and gravitates back to her very first love of rich sounding pop music. In it, she sets out to introduce the listener to the girl from the 90s who wore out TLC’s “CrazySexyCool” album and loaded her Discman with Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson and Lauryn Hill; to the girl who didn’t care who heard her belting out the hits at the top of her lungs.

Following the 2008 independent release of her first album “Never Just A Dream”, Emma-Lee garnered a ton of attention, including glowing reviews from the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail - the latter naming it their “disc of the week”. Her 2012 follow-up, the aforementioned “Backseat Heroine” was released through eOne Music Canada, and first single “Not Coming By” yielded significant traction at CBC Radio 2, with the video for second single “Figure It Out” added into heavy rotation on MuchMusic. The album was also named “Best Adult Contemporary Album” at the 12th annual Independent Music Awards.

With 5 national tours and many high profile international showcases under her belt; Emma-Lee’s extensive touring continues to carve her place in the Canadian music scene and abroad. Named “Best Female Vocalist” in NOW Magazine’s Best of Toronto reader’s poll for two years in a row, Emma-Lee sings with a vulnerable nuance and power – an utterly modern, delightful addition to 2016’s pop charts.

Band Members