This album is like a sea-breeze on a hot summer’s day; it’s cooling and soothing, and once it starts, you don’t want it to stop. Canadian Maya Rae isn’t eighteen yet and she’s already been singing professionally for six years. Six years! She recorded her first album of jazz covers at the age of thirteen, but this is an entirely different beast; it’s a batch of songs co-written with her brother Evan that display a remarkable maturity while still retaining a sense of wonder and innocence. They’re delivered by a set of highly-accomplished musicians, and the end of result is my favourite new album of the year so far. If your interest has been piqued by what you’ve read so far, check out some of the Spotify song links as well. If you want a few quick and easy reference points, try early Joni Mitchell, Norah Jones and maybe even (completely coincidentally) the first Corinne Bailey Rae album.

You would expect someone who’s been singing professionally since the age of twelve to have a good voice and you won’t be disappointed. Maya’s voice is rich and clear, and she has an impressive range as well. We all know that often that isn’t enough; you need the right team and usually you need a good throw of the dice at some point.

This album came about as a result of Maya sending a demo to Canadian uber-producer Steve Dawson, who managed to pull a bunch of musicians together in Nashville to record the album in just three days. The result sounds anything but rushed; it all fits into place perfectly and the arrangements create the perfect picture-frame for all of the delicately-crafted songs. And there are so many insidious hooks. Whether they’re the work of Steve Dawson or the musicians involved in the project, I don’t know, but each one pulls you in to the song, and they come from all directions, violin, guitar, organ, synthesiser; you name it.

I recommend that you give the entire album a listen, but if you twisted my arm, my favourites would be the incredibly catchy opener “Can You See Me”, which talks about the masks we wear to hide our true selves, the optimistic “The Sun Will Come Out Again” and the sinuously funky, Bill Withers-esque, groove of “New to Me”. I could go on, but I really want you to listen to the whole album and then buy it. This classy bunch of songs, beautifully interpreted, and sung with such clarity and precision, is something your collection needs.

“Can You See Me?” is out now on Black Hen Records (BHCD0092).

Do Tell“Do Tell” by Hat Fitz & Cara Robinson is an incredibly frustrating album; there are some sublime moments, but there are a couple of complete clunkers as well. Just as you’re starting to really appreciate the musicianship and vocals, along comes a song which seems to have bypassed the quality control process completely; but more about that later. Hat Fitz is an Australian blues veteran who met his wife, Cara Robinson, a soul singer who has toured with Corinne Bailey-Rae and Jamiroquai, at an event in Ireland. Since they got together, musically and romantically, they have developed a compelling live presence, with Cara supporting Fitz’s guitar and vocals with drums, washboard, fife, flute and acoustic guitar as well as providing a powerful second voice.   Their recent material has moved away from traditional blues to include folkier and country elements which are all on display on “Do Tell”.

The album opens with “Friday Night”, a finger-picked acoustic blues telling the story of various characters in a bar and is delivered by Cara Robinson with more than a hint of Janis Joplin. “Stray Hat” follows, a raw country blues with a Fitz vocal and some nice harmonica; so far, so good. “Gotta Love” is the first of the low points; the slow electric slide intro builds into an all-out stomper but the combination of the over-wrought Cara Robinson vocal and the slide guitar just doesn’t work. The title song follows and it’s a slow blues balled with a descending guitar riff; it’s also a love song to a beer fridge; that’s Australians for you. “Long Black Cloud” is superb; it’s a slow blues which sounds a lot like the late Jackie Leven. If only the whole album was this good.

“Excuse Me” is a fast electric blues with a Cara Robinson lead vocal, followed by “99.9”, a blues duet with finger-picked acoustic backing with a lyrical theme of broken promises. “Sister Sister” has a more country feel with a Cara Robinson vocal and some nice flute to bring a bit of variety.  That’s four good songs in a row, so guess what? “Shakedown” is a stinker; Fitz and Cara’s vocals are fighting each other in the chorus and the melodic fife hook only seems to emphasise the discordance.  The final song, “Coming Home” again shows good this album could have been; it has a bluegrass feel with very tight harmonies and some nice fiddle and banjo throughout.

As a whole, it’s a bit of a roller-coaster ride; the two songs which let the album down really shouldn’t have made the cut and they devalue some of the other excellent material on the album. I wish I knew why “Gotta Love” and “Shakedown” managed to actually get on to the album, but I guess someone must have thought they deserved to be there.  Ignore those two songs and it’s a very good raw country blues album.

Out May 12 on Manhaton Records.