With her fifth album release on April 1 and Western Canadian tour dates throughout April, Orit Shimoni’s Bitter is the New Sweet opens up an exciting new chapter in the life of one Canada’s most brilliant and lyrically impactful vocalists. This special artist is likened to the romance of the troubadour, the mesmerizing wordsmith abilities of Leonard Cohen. She’s an ex-academic with a penchant for the open road, the one with the meanest curves, the one vast enough to carry the wings of an artist. From the chance meeting with Juno award-winning pianist Julian Fauth and his Tuesday night house band in Toronto, it was soon envisioned: Bitter is the New Sweet.
“I’ve been on the road solo, full-time for the past six years. I play with musicians in different cities, so it’s been really hard to define my sound. 95% of my shows are solo shows,” she explains. On her journey across Canada from the entertainer’s cabin aboard Via Rail, Shimoni shares warm insights and thoughtful, albeit coffee-addled, conversation.
“I don’t know if it’s luck. I seem to have ended up in the hands of really fantastic people,” she says. “For instance, I was touring solo in Holland and one of the sound guys booked me for two more shows, said, ‘I’ll put a band together for you.’ People want their hands in it and it’s flattering. If you’re ‘married’ to the band, you already have your set up. If you’re solo you’re really flexible.”
Candid, full of fascination and humour, she divulges on such topics as her significant artistic developments, her monumental successes, her views on being a woman in the industry and the travails and fascinations of Europe’s music scene, Canada’s wonderful diversity, and Israel’s bittersweet inspirations. “I left Jerusalem. It was really violent and awful and, at first, I didn’t want listeners to have a bias going into my music,” she says, have just made an executive career decision to change her nominal image back to her beautiful and enigmatic Hebrew name, Orit Shimoni (her video release, “Let’s Get Persecuted,” sounds off on the theme), from her stage name, Little Birdie. “It made me really uncomfortable when I was identified as an Israeli. But, why did I think that I’m only a Canadian artist? I spent half my life in Israel. The reality of war there has affected me as a human being. I fell in love with protest music.”
After all, Shimoni affirms her personal strength to identify with basic humanness regardless of cultural category and to present dignity and class before the oft belligerent rage of protest music. “I have deep respect for the written word. It invites people to share in the interpretation. Passion for metaphor is the heart of my creative process. I write from a pretty autobiographical standpoint,” she says. “It’s gotta be real, I believe in authenticity. It’s gotta be profound. I only have the impulse to turn it into a song when it’s human and relatable. It doesn’t have to be heavy, my songs usually are. They’ve got to be something that a lot of people can tap into.”
An exceptional bout of worldly experience pours from her captivating vocal sound, as with her exceptionally choice, world-class instrumental accompanists. Her recent output has been closely attuned to the high standards of jazz and speaks of her artistic growth, as a once budding local artist in Calgary, then Montreal, rose to the toast of a global musical affair. “Life experience makes you able to express your vocals differently. At a show of mine a few years back, I sang the jazz standard, ‘Cry Me a River,’ and I discovered another level of singing. I was singing from my toes. I’m singing from my toes with this album, Bitter is the New Sweet.”
Catch Orit Shimoni at the Ironwood Stage & Grill (Calgary) on April 8 and at the Blue Chair Cafe (Edmonton) on April 17.
By Matt Hanson