Serena Ryder has already left an indelible impression in Canada, where her album If Your Memory Serves You Well has been certified Gold and contributed to her winning the 2008 Juno Award for Best New Artist.
For American listeners, this sets the stage for is it o.k., her full length debut for Atlantic Records on which Ryder paints a self-portrait that's bitter in betrayal in "Sweeping the Ashes,"furious and yet not without affection in the hard-hitting "Little Bit of Red,"teasingly romantic on "Brand New Love,"struggling to understand another's pain on "Hiding Place,"even careening through cascades of contradictory emotion, almost from one word to the next, on "All for Love."
All of these moments Ryder brings to life with a performance that resonates in memory long after its last notes fade.
Passion, humor, playfulness, anger and exultation: is it o.k. offers each in abundance. But truth? Here, Ryder draws the line.
"This whole record is about realizing that the more we think we know, the less we do know,"she insists. "It's about me coming to terms with the fact that I'm imperfect, about being comfortable with feeling what I'm feeling and embracing being human in any way I possibly can."
Ryder's vision for is it o.k. took shape at the Village Recording Studios in West Los Angeles. With Grammy-winning producer John Alagia (Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, Jason Mraz) at the controls, Ryder and an all-star backup band brought these extraordinary songs to life over a run of six or seven days.
"It was unbelievable,"she says, smiling. "They made me see my songs from an outside perspective, which is a dream for songwriters because we're so inside our own world. They brought up so many elements and emotions that I didn't even know existed in this music. It was almost like I had folded up the origami, and then they pumped air into it."
History surrounded Ryder during these sessions - literally, in the vocal booth, among the mirrors, candles, and stained glass that Stevie Nicks had included in her design for the space. But there was a sense of history being made too - a personal step forward for Ryder, and something bigger for those who would hear this music.
"To tell you the truth, I think with this album I've just started to write good songs - songs that connect with people by relating my own contradictions to them,"she says. "I'm realizing more and more that I'm not on a one-way street or even a two-way street. It's a street with an insane amount of twists and turns, and not everybody on it feels the same thing as you. I'm feeling a lot more on this music than I ever have before. I'm feeling the cold a lot colder and the heat a lot hotter. It's exciting and terrifying at the same time, because it's opening my windows a lot wider to the world."
Through those windows, the sound of is it o.k. heralds the arrival of Serena Ryder, an artist unlike any other - an artist who is ready to change your world.