So the next big event at the Hamilton Music Awards is the Rising Star Search. It's the second year for the competition, and like last year, I'm going to be the MC. To say it's already a success is an understatement. Last year, 16 groups were chosen, from a ton of applicants, from early high school students to somewhat established groups in their 20's, all hoping to grab top honours. For good reason, as the prize package alone is worth it. It includes, most importantly, an autographed copy of The Top 100 Canadian Singles! A-ha-ha.
No, the real prize is the combination of goods and services that any young band needs, from photo sessions to studio time. As mentioned yesterday, runners-up Weekend Riot Club turned their prize into a 3-track debut disc, which just came out. The winners from last year went even further. They are Dawn and Marra, a young folk duo both in their teens, and already becoming established. Although it wasn't even part of the prize package, they scored a coveted opening slot on the big Harvest Picnic show near Hamilton this summer, with the likes of Daniel Lanois, Emmy Lou Harris, Ray Lamontagne, Gord Downie, Sarah Harmer and more sharing the bill with them. I got a chance to see them play this year at the conference, and you can tell they have grown in confidence and experience.
They also used their win to record a first disc, which I reviewed back in June of this year. Since it's Hamilton week, it's the perfect time to revisit that disc, as I present the Best Of Bob and Hamilton (really just an excuse for me to write less this week as a run around watching Hamilton bands at the conference). Here's that original review:
The winner of the Rising Star Search were a duo, two young women from nearby Dundas, 18 and 16, named Dawn and Marra. It was quickly obvious, even with just two songs allowed, that these two had a spark, and a desire to perform. I'm not talking about the "look-at-me" narcissism you see on Idol shows, or among high school class clowns. These two wanted to share what they do. What really impressed most people was that they also wrote their own songs, already. You can be a great singer, a fine musician, but add songwriting to that mix, and you've turned a corner. That's the thing about music -- somebody has to write it. Fine voices, good arrangements, harmonies, confidence playing just by themselves, Dawn and Marra has everything you'd want to see in a professional duo at club, and here they were just starting out.
Fast-forward to, well, today, half a year later, and I have the new, and first Dawn and Marra album, Never Ask Me Why. Using the buzz and support from the Hamilton Music Awards, they've done exactly what you'd hope they would: made a strong debut album, played almost every weekend since, and staked out an immediate future in music. The disc is all original, ten cuts, done in their singer-songwriter style. Marra Koren sings lead and harmony, and handles bass duties, while Dawn Larsh writes the bulk of the songs, also sings lead and harmonies, and plays guitar and ukulele. Quite good ukulele in fact, there's a couple of cool numbers with that as the base instrument, a different sound for sure.
Dawn and Marra are still learning, and there's an awkwardness at times with the lyrics, or times when they still sound like teens. But mostly on this disc, and live, they're showing their strengths in performing and writing. Already they stand out.