by Roman Mitz for Open Spaces.
Raised in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, near Vancouver, Madeline Merlo has been on a fast track after being discovered on YouTube and signed to a record label at only 18. Radio success, tour dates and awards quickly followed, and she was honoured with the Canadian Country Music Association’s Rising Star Award in 2015. In 2020 things began to take off, as she won the season two premiere episode of the NBC songwriting reality series “Songland,” penning the infectious “Champagne Night” for Lady A. The song was a three-week No. 1 that opened doors in Nashville, and as George Jones once said, Madeline was only too happy to ‘Step right up, and come on in.’
“I actually moved to Nashville in 2018 so it’s been four years,” she says over the phone line from Music City. “The move from Canada to Nashville and a different kind of market was tough. It felt a little like you had to start at the beginning again and develop all of those relationships. It took a lot of hard work and time to get into the community, but it’s really great to feel embraced a little bit and to start my journey as a U.S. artist as well.
I call this place Nashville University because there’s so much to learn here. The most incredibly talented songwriters live here and work here, and you really learn a lot from just being immersed in that world. I think it’s changed me as a person, as a songwriter and as an artist. If any young artist is thinking about making the move here and wondering if they should, my answer is yes because it’s so amazing.”
Madeline signed a major label record deal with the BBR Music Group and she has just released her vibrant four-track EP “Slide”. Produced by Zach Crowell, who has written and/or produced numerous hits for Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Luke Bryan and Dierks Bentley, the EP captivates with songs that layer traditional instruments over beguiling arrangements. The title track is a smoking love song in which the singer suggests sliding into her boyfriend’s Tacoma to “Bump some Diffie and Nirvana”.
“My producer had originally written the song with Sam Hunt for him to record,” she begins. “But they felt like the melody or something was a little feminine and they weren’t sure if it was the right fit for Sam. Zach called me and asked me if I would like to finish it and to take the song if I wanted it. I wrote the hook and we wrote a bunch of lyrics and it turned into what is now ‘Slide.'”
“YOUNG-ish” is another up-tempo number about throwing caution to the wind, and while there’s a line about being ‘reckless and dumb’, the girl in the song definitely has both feet on the ground.
“I’m passionate about writing songs with strong female characters,” Madeline explains. “I want her to be strong, brave, and honest and, more importantly, I want her to be powerful. That’s always who I’ve been and what I’ve gravitated toward when I write. Whether it’s songs of mine like “It Didn’t”, “War Paint” or “Dear Me”, it always kind of ends up that way. For me as a listener, I really turn toward music to feel good. I really love powerful music, happy music and music that makes me feel strong. I feel it’s really my calling to create music like that.”
“I Need A Drink” is a fun number driven by some clever wordplay, particularly in the hooky chorus. I asked Madeline what comes first for her as a songwriter, the lyric or the lick. Although she claims she can play only six chords on the guitar, for her the melody’s the thing.
“The melody comes from heaven,” she says. “It just pops into your head. I’m a very basic guitar player but I’m a singer. My whole life growing up I loved Martina McBride, Faith Hill, Etta James and Alicia Keys. I always loved those powerful females and I always feel there have been so many melodies floating around in my head. I could play six chords and sing you a thousand different melodies. I just feel it’s something that comes a little more naturally to me than lyrics, although lyric writing is something I’ve worked on a lot over the last few years. Shane McAnally is a top-notch lyricist and I’ve learned a lot from him. I wouldn’t say it comes naturally but rather it’s something that comes with practice. It’s about different perspectives and trying to find the most artistic and clever and cool way of saying a simple thing. Writing lyrics is kind of an introspective process and it’s about trying to find inspiration when it comes to that.”
Along with her vocal and songwriting talents, Madeline has dabbled in acting, having landed a role in the 2017 film Country Crush. While she’s had no modelling background, recent Spotify and Apple billboard campaigns promoting her new EP, along with giant images of the singer, suggest there may be yet another career path for her in the future.
“Apple and Spotify have been very kind to me,” Madeline says. “It’s very cool to have your face on a billboard. They make you feel really loved when you release a song, which gets to be on a billboard in the Eaton Centre. That’s very, very cool.
As far as acting goes, I don’t think I would turn down an opportunity that felt right, but my focus is not on auditioning per se. The Country Crush opportunity really fell into my lap. The character I played was a country singer so it was an easy kind of step to take. I don’t think I’m an actress, but if (Kevin Costner’s Neo-Western series) Yellowstone called and wanted me on the show, I would be game. I’d be game for anything if the right opportunity comes along.”
In addition to all of the positive things happening in Madeline’s career, she shared some blissful personal news last spring when she announced her engagement. The lucky beau is Chase Fann, a Nashville attorney, which sounds like a pretty good fit for someone in the music biz.
“You’re right,” she laughs. “Having an attorney in-house is pretty convenient. We met right before Covid during this really crazy time. Everything kind of slowed down, and I said ‘Ok, who am I outside of music?’ I was able to start to grow a little in Nashville. He’s amazing and kind, and I’m really lucky.”
Raised on The Rock, Nashville-based artist Mallory Johnson celebrates a milestone release with her debut album “Surprise Party”. Initially starting out as a six-track EP, the addition of the title track caught Mallory by surprise, inspiring an entire concept album, “One evening I got together with Carli and Julie Kennedy (Twin Kennedy) and we started writing “Surprise Party.” Something clicked after we finished writing this song and the theme of the entire record just organically fell into place. The songs started to perfectly weave together to tell a celebratory story sprinkled with champagne, confetti, and birthday cake”. The album was produced by Grammy and Oscar award-nominated producer Kent Wells (Dolly Parton, Carly Pearce).
Heading into the final months of what has been the biggest year of their career, The Reklaws are bringing the party to their fans with the release of their third album, “Good Ol’ Days”. Debuting three new songs “Middle Fingers,” “People Don’t Talk About” and the album’s title track, the album also packages together a collection of songs the multi-platinum duo have shared over the past couple of years during the pandemic. “We just can’t wait to share this album with our fans,” says Stuart Walker, who fronts the group along with his sister Jenna. “We’re so in love with the first two albums we’ve been able to share but this one just feels different. With most of the songs being written and released during the pandemic, a difficult time for so many people, it has become a collection of tracks that tell the story of what we were going through at the time. This release allows us to close that time of our lives and look forward to what’s in front of us.”
Award-winning Canadian country artists Tyler Joe Miller and Matt Lang have released a fun music video for their twang-infused track “Never Met a Beer.” Tyler, who is currently on the cross-country Mapdot Tour with Jess Moskaluke says. “I think you’ll be able to see the true excitement that Matt and I had when we got to play this together live finally. The crowd in Saint-Tite, Quebec, was incredible, and I couldn’t have asked for a better crowd and a better drinking buddy for the music video.”
Sticking with the suds, Alberta-born country artist Dan Davidson released a new single, “Girls Drink Beer,” featuring Australian country singer Travis Collins. To celebrate the release, on Dan’s recent Australian tour, he and Travis hit the stage at The Exchange Hotel in Newcastle to perform the track together for the very first time.
Open Spaces would like to give a shout-out to Shari Tallon, a Toronto-based multi-talented instrumentalist and composer. She, with Chris Birkett, fronts the progressive rock duo The Free Spirits. The group has released a soulful single called “The Power Of Love” that might remind one of vintage Traffic. Shari, a flutist, pianist, composer, singer/songwriter, performer and music educator, has released 12 albums for educational markets. She has received rave reviews from the School Library Journal in New York City. She sells her music worldwide, touring and creating music programs for children, schools, and Early Childhood Educator college students.
We end the column with a congratulatory tip of the Stetson to Toronto-based One Ugly Cowboy (OUC) whose rocking cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring Of Fire” was selected `Video Of The Month for October’ by the Country Music Association Of Ontario.