Lynn Miles sings what one critic aptly called, “exquisitely disconsolate” songs about heartbreak, disappointment, loneliness — and the end of summer.
“I have a whole series I call my autumnal songs,” said the Ottawa-based singer-songwriter, who despite her subject matter, comes across as fairly upbeat.
“I wanted to do a whole album of them. And I wanted to record a whole album of my train songs, and road trip songs. . . .”
Instead, Miles, who will perform on Wednesday at the Memorial Centre as part of the Sirens of Song lineup with Melanie Doane, Catherine MacLennan, and Annabelle Chvostek, wisely decided to mixed it up a bit.
She recently released a double album of diverse poetic tunes called Black Flowers, Vol. 1-2. The CD is the first in her long-range plan to eventually record all 620 songs she’s written exactly as she first played them. Just her voice and minimal instrumentation carry the haunting lyrics and melodies that have won Miles critical praise from Toronto to Tennessee and Christchurch, New Zealand.
Some of the tunes were re-recorded from previous albums, some were never before released.
Among them is one of Miles’s most poignant change-of-seasons songs, Last Night. It’s a deceptively simple tune about watching the kids next door lick the first snowflakes that come floating from the sky. But with the repeat line “ain’t it funny how the seasons change just like that,” it manages to evoke all the mixed-up, wistful emotions anybody’s ever felt about the approach of winter.
“It is a very atmospheric song,” said Miles, who seems genuinely pleased to hear it praised. “It’s a real Ottawa song because here the seasonal changes are so big and dramatic. The autumn is so powerful, so beautiful here. It is very evocative.”
Miles used to be known for singing about romantic love gone wrong. Unfortunately, all the heartache she expressed in her lyrics came from personal experience. “A lot of it was self-induced,” the singer said with a laugh. “I used to drink a lot, and I used to look for these dramatic, romantic, passionate relationships, where we’d break up and I’d be pining for somebody.”
“I’m not writing about that stuff anymore,” said Miles, who is happily single.
Now her creative juices flow from a different place. “I’m writing about addiction and loss,” said the singer, whose dad passed away from cancer three weeks ago.
Miles has often credited her parents — her jazz-loving, harmonica-playing father and her classical-music-phile mother — for sparking her love of performing while she was growing up in Sweetsburg, Que., just outside of Montreal.
Her dad’s death “has been very, very hard. But the thing about being a musician is that when I’m going through something like losing my father, music rescues me, just as it has rescued me my whole life. It helps me survive.”
She now thinks the death of her parent has afforded her “a state of grace,” in which everything becomes more real and more “present.”
“I’ve always tried to appreciate what I have,” said the 50-year-old singer, “and now even more so. I live in the present a lot more.”
Miles, who once gave voice lessons to students, including a 14-year-old Alanis Morrisette, has been reaping awards for her own music, including a 2003 Juno for her roots album Unravel and a 2005 Canadian Folk Award for her CD Love Sweet Love.
She routinely tours in Europe and the U.S., where her singing career started after Miles was signed to an American record label. (Miles jokes that her own country took a while to catch on to her talents; “I never got a deal in Canada until I was 40 years old!”)
The fact that an introspective Canadian singer-songwriter, who largely writes about life’s darker side, has an international career proves Miles’s point — that people relate to sadness because they can learn from it.
“Happiness is wonderful,” she said, “but no one has an (epiphany) skiing down a hill. Sometimes the most beautiful moments come when you are crying in the rain.”
Who: Sirens of Song, with Lynn Miles, Melanie Doane, Catherine MacLennan, and Annabelle Chvostek
When: 8 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 16
Where: Red Deer’s Memorial Centre
Tickets: $32 from Black Knight Ticket Centre