My day began and ended at the Claridge Stage on Day 4, where Bluesfest showcased some immense local and international female talent. I checked out Ottawa’s Alanna Sterling & The Silvers, who made a serious impression on me, as well as the huge crowd that accumulated during the course of her show.
Dressed in a silver, shoulder-spiked jacket, futuristic eyewear and a wide-brimmed hat, Sterling took her confident stance at the keys and I knew at once I was about to get hit with something extraordinary and unique. The music was a synergy of funk, r&b, rock, ska, reggae, and even disco that grabbed me instantly. But it was Sterling’s voice and how she used it that really took me by surprise. Boasting a 3-½ octave range, her voice exhibited all of the same traits her music delivered—raw, energetic, soulful, percussive, and with a quirky playfulness.
One called “Basket Case” rocked in a rich funk groove, whereas another entitled “Chemicals” was a smoother hip-hop piece with a vocal melody that flitted up and down the scale effortlessly, drawing a huge crowd reaction. More of those percussive vocal runs came with “Object”, where Sterling played guitar and even churned out a quick trumpet solo to boot.
Off came the hat, which set free her long multi-coloured tresses, before diving into a happy paced jazz number called “Home With You”. Sterling’s vocal gymnastics climbed and descended, and oozed with sharp saucy sass. Later, she would don the sax during the title track to her latest album, Visible Spectrum (2017), which moved from a smooth jazz flow to a rockier double time. Sterling talks about how she acquired her multi-instrumental talent:
“My Mom was a piano teacher and she’d always have me on her lap at the piano when I was an infant. I started actual lessons when I was 3, then flute when I was 6. In high school, I pretty much picked up any instrument they had in the music room and tried to learn it. My go-to instrument for songwriting is definitely my guitar, but if I have to pick a favourite instrument, it’s the cello—I love the way it resonates.”
The end of the set included a bizarrely twisted yet extremely creative piece fittingly titled, “OCD”, which had changing tempos and feverish segments abound. The finale came by way of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”, which I felt was a perfect cover choice. The band captured all of the song’s funky souljazz groove which suits their style, while Sterling set the vocal melody ablaze. She came out blowing kisses to her audience, which by this time had filled the tent, and left her and the band with a standing ovation.
For more info on Alanna Sterling & The Silvers, head to their Facebook page or follow the band on Instagram. RBC Bluesfest runs from July 5–15, 2018 at LeBreton Flats. Visit ottawabluesfest.com for the lineup and schedule. Keep checking back for more of Apt613’s Bluesfest coverage and follow us on Instagram for the latest photos.